07.06.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

About Yoon Suk-Yeol’s trip to Hiroshima and other meetings with European leaders. Part Three. Meetings with world leaders

Yoon Suk-Yeol’s trip to Hiroshima

Yoon’s invitation to the summit, according to First Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo, “will be an opportunity to reaffirm our status as a global partner in defending the rules-based international order and responding to global challenges.” Therefore, during his speech at the enlarged G7 session on May 20, the president of the Republic of Korea actively demonstrated a “global Korea,” mostly concerning humanitarian issues and “fighting for all good things.” As a result, Yoon pledged an additional $24 million (nearly tripling South Korea’s previous contribution) to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI), an Oslo-based international public-private partnership that funds independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging viral threats. Yoon also announced intentions to expand the ASEAN+3 Emergency Rice Reserve and committed to boost rice production capacity in seven poor African countries through the K-rice belt project, which intends to share South Korean rice production technology with sub-Saharan African countries. Yoon also has vowed to double South Korea’s rice aid to developing countries through the UN World Food Program from 50,000 tons to 100,000 tons.

At the second extended session on climate, energy and the environment, Yoon emphasized South Korea’s plans to actively cooperate with the G7 to address climate issues – in particular, announcing the decision to actively promote a carbon-neutral policy while encouraging new low-carbon industries.

Yoon Suk-yeol and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese decided to intensify their partnership in the defense and arms sectors on May 19.  Albanese “expressed hope that the two countries will increase the frequency of regional military exercises in which both countries take part.” The two leaders also agreed to work more closely together “based on the common understanding that North Korea’s unprecedented provocations pose a serious threat to peace and prosperity in the region and beyond.”

After their relations reached the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership last year, on May 19 Yoon Suk-yeol asked Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to support South Korean businesses operating in his nation. He did this in the hopes that the two nations will communicate and work together more closely. The president emphasized that Vietnam is South Korea’s third-largest trading partner and that the 8,000 South Korean businesses operating in Vietnam are a valuable asset. The prime minister was thanked for personally resolving their issues by meeting with business leaders last year and the year before. Pham thanked Yoon, saying he hoped for more help from South Korea in areas such as finance, technology, human resource development, and institutional improvements. Together, the parties hope to reach a turnover of $150 billion by 2030.

On May 20, Yoon Suk-yeol and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to develop cooperation in defense and advanced technology. Yoon expressed his gratitude to Modi for participating in the March 2023 Summit for Democracy, which South Korea and the US were co-hosting. The two parties “agreed to advance cooperation not only in arms, which include K-9 self-propelled howitzers, but also in cutting-edge technologies, such as digital, bio-health and space.” On the basis of the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which came into effect in 2010, an agreement was reached to increase trade turnover. Yoon Suk-yeol urged the head of India to apply more appropriate customs duty requirements to South Korean companies operating in the Indian market. The parties reached an agreement to continue the development of special strategic partnerships.

On May 20, Yoon Suk-yeol and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak discussed bilateral cooperation and interaction in addressing global issues. The parties acknowledged the necessity of strengthening and broadening their collaboration in a number of sectors, including energy (particularly nuclear), the defense sector, semiconductors and digital technologies, and cybersecurity.

In addition, Sunak said he plans to make the Republic of Korea the most important partner in the Asia-Pacific region and suggested developing a detailed plan and agreement on South Korean-British cooperation as soon as possible.

On May 21, Yoon Suk-yeol and Indonesian President Joko Widodo discussed ways to deepen economic cooperation: Yoon expressed his satisfaction with the advancements made by the two nations in a number of projects since the head of Indonesia paid a visit to South Korea in July of last year and praised Wikodo for his interest in and support of enhancing the two nations’ bilateral cooperation in investment, infrastructure, and defense.

Noting that South Korea prioritizes cooperation with Indonesia as a key partner for the development of future industries, Yoon requested Widodo’s interest and support for South Korean businesses investing in Indonesia.

Wikodo stressed that bilateral relations are important to his country, and asked South Korea for active investment and cooperation related to Indonesian agricultural development, the electric vehicle ecosystem, information and communication systems, and small modular reactors.

On May 21, Yoon Suk-yeol and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the first chancellor to visit South Korea in 30 years, agreed to a military secrecy agreement to help strengthen supply chains in the defense industry. The parties also agreed to deepen their solid trade and investment links with cutting-edge sectors like hydrogen, semiconductors, biotechnology, and renewable energy. They also agreed to strengthen their supply chain collaborations.

The following day, May 22, South Korean Trade Minister Ahn Duk-guen and Jorg Kukies, Germany’s state secretary for economic, finance and European affairs at the Federal Chancellery, met to examine measures to improve bilateral economic and industrial supply chain collaboration. The two sides shared their policy measures for dealing with supply chain disruptions and agreed to continue consultations.

Germany is South Korea’s No. 1 trading partner among European countries, and according to government data, bilateral trade reached a record high of $33.7 billion last year.

On the same day, Yoon Suk-yeol met with Charles Michel, the President of the European Council President and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: The outcome of the meeting was a joint statement, the size of which (or rather, the positions where the parties displayed consensus and coordinated efforts) exceeded the language of similar Yoon and Biden’s statement. Korea views the EU, which ranks third in trade and first in investment, as a vital partner. The fact that the EU and the Republic of Korea are allies who uphold the fundamental values of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law was stressed.

The parties expressed concern about the situation in the Taiwan Strait and “unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region” (although no names were given); they also agreed to strengthen cooperation in the face of new challenges and expand it in advanced technology and global security, military and technical fields, cybersecurity, and fight against terrorism. They also rejected North Korea’s claim to be a nuclear state and condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

In addition, the ROK and the EU confirmed their support for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT); the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC); the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The author perceives this as an additional confirmation of Seoul’s refusal to establish its nuclear program.

In less general terms, however, it could be summed up as follows:

  • An agreement was recorded on the creation of a “Green Partnership” (renewable and clean energy sources, hydrogen) between the Republic of Korea and the EU to expand cooperation on climate change, environmental protection and the transition to a green economy.
  • Participants praised the ROK-EU agreement on health emergency preparedness coming into force and the beginning of a digital collaboration between the ROK and the EU (semiconductors, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence) in November 2022.
  • To improve collaboration on cutting-edge and innovative technologies, formal negotiations will begin for South Korea to join the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation initiative.
  • Finally, the joint statement contains an agreement to create a Strategic Dialogue at the level of foreign ministers to strengthen cooperation in the field of global peace and security.
  • And also to expand the existing Industrial Policy Dialogue to a Supply Chain and Industrial Policy Dialogue (SCIPD) with the goal of holding the first SCIPD session during 2023.

Will the seven be eight through Seoul’s inclusion?

In some quarters, the possibility of expanding the organization’s seven-party format to include the Republic of Korea as Asia’s fourth economy has been raised, given the strengthening of relations between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, an idea that seems to be gaining support after the South Korea’s president’s participation in the Hiroshima summit.

However, on May 15, 2023, State Department Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the US Department of State has no information about the possible expansion of the G7 to the G8 to include the Republic of Korea.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, Professor in International Relations at King’s College London, believes there are grounds. South Korea’s per capita GDP is essentially on par with that of Japan and Italy, military capability (6th-7th place in terms of the strength of the army) and an orientation toward democratic values are attached. However, South Korea is not the only country claiming a place in the G7, and therefore it will be accepted only together with other countries, primarily Australia and possibly India.

Another, more important question is whether joining the G7 is a good way for South Korea to increase its influence around the world. First, the G7’s share of global economic output is now declining compared to the G20. And second, although its real political weight is great, technically the G7 is not an international organization, it is not based on an international treaty, it has no charter and no secretariat, and its decisions are not legally binding. Thirdly, the G7 is seen as the major coalition of the “Collective West” since Russia departed its ranks in 2014 following the Crimean events. As a result, the Republic of Korea’s membership there would complicate its relations with China and Russia.

As even the JoongAng Ilbo states, Yoon has strengthened security cooperation with the United States and Japan more than expected. However, “if Korea excessively leans toward one side amid a hegemony battle between liberal and authoritarian systems, it must risk ramifications. Value-based diplomacy is meaningful, but the best diplomacy is to maximize national interests.” And this, according to the author of the article, implies maintaining relations with China, and it would be worth thinking about holding a South Korea-China summit or a Korea-China-Japan summit with South Korea as the presiding state.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, leading research fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of China and Modern Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.

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