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Yoon hosts Seoul summit with Pacific island leaders

By Kim Arin

Published : May 29, 2023 - 19:48

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President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at a summit meeting with Pacific island leaders on Monday. (Yonhap) President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at a summit meeting with Pacific island leaders on Monday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Sunday met with leaders of five Pacific island countries in the first such summit hosted in Seoul by the South Korean president to discuss ways to boost regional security and partnership in resource development.

The Sunday leg of the Korea-Pacific Islands Summit was attended by President Taneti Maamau of Kiribati, Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni of Tonga, Prime Minister Kausea Natano of Tuvalu, Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau of Vanuatu and Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea.

Yoon welcomed the five leaders in a series of summit meetings held at Cheong Wa Dae in central Seoul on Sunday, and later a banquet hosted by the presidential couple.

The presidential office said in a press statement that Yoon and the leaders welcomed Sunday’s summit as “elevating the level of dialogue” between Seoul and the Pacific region.

Yoon told the leaders that the round of summits “build on more than half-a-century-old ties” among each of the countries, the statement said. The president called for expanding collaboration in tackling climate change and other pressing challenges, and advancing joint goals such as health security.

The meetings are part of the Indo-Pacific strategy unveiled last year under the Yoon administration, which outline further developing partnerships with Pacific island countries based on shared democratic values. Both China and the US have sought to woo the Pacific island nations, which possess abundant resources.

Presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon told reporters, “President Yoon demonstrated our commitment and contribution to the Pacific island nations by conducting consecutive bilateral meetings with the leaders of the 10 Pacific island nations, the first of its kind in history.”

The spokesperson added that this initiative would be a cornerstone for future bilateral cooperation with each country.

The presidential office said Yoon discussed enhancing cooperation in safe fishing with Maamau of Kiribati, and thanked Sovaleni of Tonga for a successful evacuation of Korean residents there during a volcanic eruption in January last year. With Natano of Tuvalu, he spoke of the broadening efforts to counter rising sea levels there. He also expressed deep appreciation for the determination shown by Vanuatu’s Kalsakau in bringing climate change to the International Court of Justice. He touched on the development of economic links with Papua New Guinea, whose trade volume with Korea increased 2.4-fold last year.

Following Sunday’s summit, Yoon continued summit talks with Pacific island countries on Monday. The leaders Yoon met were Prime Minister Mark Brown of the Cook Islands, President David Kabua of the Marshall Islands, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands, Premier Dalton Tagelagi of Niue and President Surangel Whipps Jr. of Palau.

At the summit, the leaders adopted a declaration outlining their commitment to continue to build on the close partnerships between the countries to advocate on shared values and work together on prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the sidelines of Seoul’s inaugural summit with the Pacific island nations, South Korea established formal diplomatic relations with Niue. The nation with a population of some 1,600 became the 192nd country to establish diplomatic relations with South Korea, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Niue is not a United Nations member, but is an active UNESCO and World Health Organization member, the ministry added.

Also on Monday, first lady Kim Keon Hee invited the spouses of the Pacific island country leaders to a cultural event at the National Museum of Korea, where artists designated as “national treasures” performed traditional Korean dances and music. The first lady then hosted a lunch for them at a Buddhist temple.