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Foreign minister puts exports at heart of diplomatic strategy

By Choi Si-young

Published : March 27, 2023 - 15:43

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Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks during a meeting with South Korea’s diplomatic mission chiefs at the ministry headquarters in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap) Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks during a meeting with South Korea’s diplomatic mission chiefs at the ministry headquarters in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

Foreign Minister Park Jin said Monday diplomatic missions will be key in pushing for exports as South Korea looks for greater economic might amid rising US-China geopolitical tensions.

At an in-person meeting in Seoul with 166 mission chiefs, the first in five years over COVID-19 travel curbs, the top South Korean diplomat called safeguarding economic interests a matter of “security.”

“What’s more important than efficiency is reliability and stability. Seeking a united front on cutting-edge technologies with countries that share the same values as ours is key,” Park said, referring to the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s efforts to “proactively seek out national interests” alongside the US, South Korea’s biggest ally.

A US-led chip partnership is an example of such endeavors, Park noted. Called “Chip 4,” the coalition of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US held its first meeting virtually in late February. Senior officials discussed bolstering the semiconductor supply chain following a global chip crunch caused by the pandemic. The gathering is meant to sideline China.

Park also asked participants to pay just as much attention to containing inter-Korean tension. Since last year, North Korea has been ramping up tension as the isolated country carries on with its weapon tests, the latest of which took place Monday.

Facing international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, the reclusive regime fired off two short-range ballistic missiles, adding to a list of weapon launches that include an undersea drone capable of nuclear attacks on Seoul and Washington. The two allies resumed their full-scale military exercises this month following a five-year hiatus meant to give room for diplomacy.

“Real measures that deliver results will be rolled out to protect the Korean Peninsula against North Korea’s growing nuclear threats,” Park said of extended deterrence, a US pledge to mobilize all resources including nuclear weapons to deter and respond to attacks on its allies. The two allies are expected to make the US more accountable for the commitment by bringing South Korea closer to the contingency, during Yoon’s state visit to the US in late April.

Yoon will again meet with his US counterpart at the Group of Seven summit in Japan in May. Three-way ties involving the three jointly working on North Korea’s disarmament remain central in Yoon’s foreign policy that aims to befriend Tokyo, Seoul’s longtime rival that until recently had been lukewarm toward South Korea’s calls for cooperation.

“Seoul and Tokyo are now two equals. We now have ended the long vicious cycle of hostility and are ready to pursue common interests,” Park said. He was referring to Yoon’s March 6 decision in which South Korea attempted to bring closure to the longtime historical feud over apologizing to and compensating Koreans forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan’s 1910-45 rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo welcomed the announcement, while it raised hackles among opposition parties in Seoul.

Meanwhile, Park mentioned expanding ties with Beijing, Seoul’s biggest trading partner. In January, the two neighbors were engaged in a spat over issuing short-term visas as South Korea tried to contain a spillover from rising infections from China. Beijing, which retaliated demanding Seoul drop the stronger curbs, eased back the rules this month once South Korea lifted its visa suspension for travelers from China.