The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] After the summit: Back on track

By Korea Herald

Published : May 3, 2023 - 05:29

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To the great relief of both countries, the 2023 summit meeting between South Korea and the US turned out to be a remarkable success in many respects. The atmosphere was indeed congenial, based firmly on the mutual trust and companionship of fellow travelers on the challenging path to defend democracy against the threat of autocracy. The foreign press, too, favorably reported on the success of the summit.

One of the highlights was President Yoon’s surprise song during the welcoming banquet at the White House. At US President Biden‘s urging, Yoon belted out his rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie” to a big applause from the audience.

At the US Capitol, Yoon impressed the congresspeople and the senators with his excellent speech and persuasive tone. The US press pointed out that Yoon accomplished a rare feat: he united, if but briefly, a deeply divided US Congress, by inspiring a series of standing ovations from both sides of the aisle, assuring them that South Korea and the US will continue to work closely together as defenders of liberal democracy and human rights.

Yoon must have memorized the manuscript. Instead of reading it, he looked at the US lawmakers and talked to them directly in English, which was very appealing to the audience. It was in part a measure of the effectiveness of his delivery, then, that Yoon received so many standing ovations at the US Capitol.

In the past, many assumed that Yoon was an amateur politician. Through his state visit to the US this time, however, the president proved that he was in fact equally as good or perhaps better than any other professional politician today.

Yoon exhibited his superb diplomatic skills, too. During his speech, he received applause by pointing out the importance of cultural understanding between the two countries. He said, “As American young people like K-pop groups such as BTS and Blackpink, Korean young people like American movies such as ‘Top Gun’ and ‘The Avengers.’” Then he added, “Personally, I like ‘Mission Impossible.’“ How cleverly he described the compelling nature of his mission in the summit talk!

The Leaders’ Joint Statement after the summit announced that the ROK and US will remain in an alliance during the next 70 years. According to the statement, both the ROK and US are global leaders that have to assume responsibility for world peace, liberal democracy and global security. The document states: “Guided by our shared commitment to defend universal human rights, freedom and the rule of law, the United States and the ROK are constructing an Alliance that will provide future generations with a firm foundation upon which to build prosperity and security.”

The joint statement also made it clear that the US, together with the ROK, will deter any aggressions from hostile countries. It said: “While our two nations are inseparably tied by our deep and unwavering security cooperation -- reinforced today by the Presidents’ commitment in the Washington Declaration to develop ever-stronger mutual defense and deterrence -- the greatest success of the Alliance is its clear and expanding focus on achieving a secure and brighter future for the American and Korean people.”

For that purpose, the US will send a nuclear-powered submarine to the sea of South Korea soon in order to deter North Korea’s aggressions. Biden also warned that North Korea would have to face regime change if it attempted to use nuclear weapons against the US or South Korea.

The joint statement also announced America’s unwavering support of “President Yoon’s bold steps toward improving ROK-Japan relations and extended strong support for expanding ROK-Japan collaboration, which opens the door to deeper trilateral cooperation on regional and economic security.” Regarding this important matter, Sasaki Yasuo, a Japanese expert on Korea, wrote: “The state visit of President YSY to the USA is covered here in great detail, and all commentators without exception admire his determined efforts. In just one year, it feels like you are seeing the nation as far bigger and more important than ever, firmly in place at the center of the community of world leaders.”

Yoon successfully accomplished his job at the summit meeting and thus made many Korean people and Korean Americans very proud. It was a pleasant surprise that he was such a charming singer, an excellent English speech deliverer and a witty cultural diplomat. He was also very good at impromptu responses.

Under the headline, “Hollywood execs flock to Washington to meet Korean president,” Bloomberg reported that top executives from Netflix, Walt Disney, Paramount and Sony Pictures met with Yoon for insight into “South Korean content’s playbook for global success.”

Yoon may not be perfect, and yet he has done a great job for our country this year. Even his political foes have to acknowledge it. I speak for many who appreciate his courage and effort to bring our derailed country back on track.

Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.