South Korea’s Conservative President Won’t Cut Vacation Short to Meet Nancy Pelosi

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol spoke to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for about 40 minutes on Thursday via phone – despite the fact both are in Seoul, as Yoon declined to interrupt his vacation time to meet her.

Yoon, a conservative who succeeded leftist former President Moon Jae-in after a hard-fought presidential race in May, reportedly asked Pelosi “for close cooperation with U.S. Congress,” according to South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo, which did not offer any specificity on which issues Yoon sought cooperation in. South Korea relies in large part on the U.S. military for its defense, as it has been technically at war with neighboring North Korea for nearly a century. The American military still maintains a presence on their mutual border, known as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and is also still technically at war with North Korea and its ally, China, despite the signing of an armistice agreement ending hostilities in 1953.

Pelosi’s cold welcome in Seoul is a stark contrast to her other stops on her ongoing Asia trip, which has so far included meeting with the presidents of Singapore and Taiwan. Pelosi, along with a small Congressional delegation, made a surprise stop in the country of Taiwan despite weeks of bellicose threats from the Chinese Communist Party, which has since responded to her visit by engaging in an effective blockade of the island nation and banning thousands of Taiwanese imports. Prior to Pelosi’s visit, a top Chinese propagandist suggested that the Communist Party should abduct or kill Pelosi if she dared visit Taiwan.

In South Korea, the country’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday that Yoon’s office declined to schedule an in-person meeting with Pelosi while her delegation was in Seoul.

“President Yoon Suk-yeol plans to speak by phone with visiting U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later Thursday, his office said, after officials said earlier that a meeting between the two is not planned as Yoon is on summer vacation,” Yonhap reported.

The phone call, which lasted about 40 minutes according to JoongAng Ilbo, occurred on Thursday. That newspaper observed the significant optics contrast between Pelosi’s engagement with Yoon and the other two presidents on her Asia tour so far – notable particularly because Yoon campaigned on a promise to bring Seoul closer to the United States and out of China’s orbit, which it had drifted partially in under Moon Jae-in.

Yoon’s first international engagement occurred in June – a meeting with leftist President Joe Biden in which he emphasized that cooperation between the two countries (and Japan, whose prime minister was also in attendance) was necessary in light of “increased uncertainties” related to North Korea and China. Both Yoon and conservative Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio pressured Biden to do more to contain communists threats. Pelosi is reportedly meeting with Kishida on the next leg of her Asia tour.

“Yoon is on holiday this week, although plans to go out of Seoul were cancelled Monday because of plummeting approval ratings. So he was in Seoul when Pelosi was,” the newspaper observed. Yoon won a tight victory in a largely negative campaign against leftist rival Lee Jae-myung that left both candidates with significant unpopularity with the general public.

The call, according to both sides, was nonetheless cordial. Yoon appeared to give a nod to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, as he applauded her “long-term commitment to the promotion of liberal democracy and human rights,” according to a statement from his office.

Yoon “asked for continued support for the development of the global comprehensive strategic alliance between Korea and the United States,” the readout of the conversation published by his office read. “Chairman Pelosi and the delegation of the US Congress said that the importance of the ROK [South Korea]-US alliance as a key pillar for regional peace and stability is growing, and that the US Congress will make active efforts to develop the ROK-US alliance.”

Yoon also reportedly said that he hoped to meet Pelosi in person upon his “next visit to the U.S. and have in-depth discussions.”

The conversation appeared to go similarly to her in-person dialogue with her South Korean counterpart, National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo – a member of Moon Jae-in’s leftist Democratic Party. The two appeared at a press briefing together and specified that their discussions included addressing the ongoing threat of communist North Korea and support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. Pelosi did not specify in her remarks what, exactly, Washington hoped South Korea would do to help Ukraine.

“When we talk about security, and when we talk about economics, when we talk about governance, it’s the same thing,” Pelosi said at the briefing, according to a transcript published by her office. “It’s about fighting the pandemic, its about saving the planet. So many things to discuss, so much opportunity better served by, especially, in an interparliamentary way.”

In addition to visiting Seoul, Pelosi and her delegation are reportedly scheduled to visit the DMZ – specifically, the border “peace village” of Panmunjom, where former President Donald Trump met with North Korean communist dictator Kim Jong-un in 2019, making him the first American president to step foot in North Korea.

While Pelosi has moved on to the next leg of her Asia trip, the Chinese Communist Party continues to rail against her visit to Taiwan, in which she met with President Tsai, senior leaders of the legislature, and other government officials China considers “separatist” criminals. While Taiwan is a sovereign nation, China insists, falsely, that it is a “province” of China currently illegally occupied by a “separatist” group (the democratically elected Taiwanese government).

“Since Speaker Pelosi is the incumbent leader of the U.S. Congress, her visit to and activities in Taiwan, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is a major political provocation to upgrade U.S. official exchanges with Taiwan,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry railed in an extensive statement published shortly after Pelosi landed in Taiwan on Tuesday. “China absolutely does not accept this, and the Chinese people absolutely reject this.”

The Foreign Ministry went on to condemn Biden for not violating the principle of separation of powers and forbidding Pelosi from traveling to the country.

Pelosi dismissed the outrage from the communists in remarks on Wednesday, contending that it was a product of “certain insecurities on the part of the president of China [dictator Xi Jinping] as to his own political situation that he’s rattling the saber.”

“But it doesn’t really matter,” Pelosi concluded. “What matters to us is that we salute the successes of Taiwan. We work together for the security of Taiwan. And we just take great lessons from the democracy.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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