Yoon’s decision has South Korea’s presidential office scrambling to downplay accusations that he turned down a meeting with Pelosi in a bid to placate China, as South Korea navigates growing competition between its biggest trading partner and the United States. United, your greatest ally in security.
The political novice, who won the presidency by the narrowest margin in South Korea’s history, is facing plummeting approval ratings less than three months after taking office. He has promised to make his country a “Global pivot state” and a geopolitical force.
But her conspicuous absence from the world stage ignited critics, who accused South Korea’s conservative president of deliberately avoiding Pelosi because of concerns about retaliation from Beijing. His controversial visit to Taiwan has intensified tensions between the autonomous island and Beijing.
Yoon’s office said he scrapped his summer travel plans and opted for a stay in Seoul to plan future political activities and rest at home.
Yoon’s spokesman, Choi Young-bum, said the president’s summer vacation was planned before Pelosi’s trip to Asia and that Yoon attended the theater performance before Pelosi’s plane arrived. According to Choi, Yoon said that she was not available to meet with Pelosi, who flew to South Korea that night.
“I have received questions about whether the president avoided meeting with the speaker of the House because he mistrusted China,” Choi said. “All of these things are decided based on a thorough consideration of the national interest of our country.”
He also dismissed a reporter’s question that suggested Yoon’s unavailability indicated a change in Seoul’s lineup amid the US-China rivalry, calling the question “exaggeration.”
Instead of an in-person meeting, the South Korean president and Pelosi spoke by phone on Thursday night about strengthening the bilateral alliance and cooperation on regional security issues, according to a readout from Yoon’s office.
Yoon, who took office in May, vowed to “rebuild” the US-South Korea alliance, which he said deteriorated under outgoing liberal President Moon Jae-in. The Moon administration sought to work with North Korean allies, particularly China, to help broker a peace deal with Pyongyang.
Although Yoon promised a stronger political stance on Beijing, South Korea still walks a fine line. South Korea’s right-leaning newspaper Chosun Ilbo published an editorial headlined: “Yoon’s avoidance of meeting with Pelosi may send wrong signals to the US and China.” The newspaper warned the South Korean government that a “submissive attitude” toward China could upset geopolitical relations.
Pelosi is scheduled to fly to Japan on Thursday night after visiting the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between South and North Korea. In his phone conversation, Yoon called his visit to the border area “a sign of strong deterrence against North Korea,” his presidential office said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is scheduled to meet Pelosi on Friday at the last stop on his trip.