September 23, 2022 13:37
President Yoon Suk-yeol met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. It was the first summit between the leaders of the two countries in two years and nine months, and although it lasted only around 30 minutes, it marked the first step in mending frayed bilateral relations and consolidating security cooperation. Yoon also spoke briefly with U.S. President Joe Biden to voice Seoul’s concerns over the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which scraps American subsidies for South Korean-made electric cars.
Yoon's meeting with Kishida was important simply because it took place after bilateral relations had deteriorated so much. They agreed to continue dialogue to improve bilateral ties and cooperate closely to deal with North Korea's increasing nuclear threat.
A summit with Biden could not take place due to the U.S. leader's busy schedule, but observers said the U.S. appears increasingly understanding of concerns here about the impact of the IRA and the problem can be resolved through continued discussions between the two sides. Discussions are also apparently continuing over a crucial currency swap deal with the U.S.
But Yoon's latest overseas trip also exposed some serious flaws. It is customary for two countries to announce a summit between their leaders simultaneously, but Seoul jumped the gun again and made the announcement before Tokyo. When Tokyo said nothing has been decided, Seoul said Japan "willingly" agreed to a summit, drawing protests from the Japanese government, which is a stickler for protocol. Japan announced the meeting only when Yoon had already gone to a venue where Kishida was taking part in another event to meet with him. Seoul referred to it as a "pull-aside" meeting, but Japan called it a "chat." The opposition claimed Youn has been "humiliated" by rushing to meet the Japanese leader in order to better his approval rating -- something it should know all about, having brought multiple humiliations of this kind on itself when it was in power.
Yoon also stirred up controversy with a rude remark about the "dudes" in U.S. Congress following his brief encounter with Biden on the sidelines of a fundraising event. His spokeswoman tried to downplay the gaffe, saying he had been referring to South Korean lawmakers, but the damage was done and the clip went viral. Such hot-mic gaffes are increasingly common among world leaders, but they could haunt Yoon yet. The new government's diplomatic goals are on the right track, but a lot seems to be lacking in terms of its ability to achieve them. That needs to be fixed, starting at the top.
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