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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Prime minister hopeful ‘shuttle diplomacy’ with China will begin

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President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, enter a Cabinet meeting Monday at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul. Han briefed Yoon on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the weekend. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Prime Minister Han Duck-soo, enter a Cabinet meeting Monday at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul. Han briefed Yoon on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping over the weekend. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told President Yoon Suk Yeol in a Cabinet meeting Monday that he and the Chinese leader discussed hopes for “shuttle diplomacy” to unfold between South Korea and China following their recent meeting.

Han explained the results of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday during his trip to Hangzhou to attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games over the weekend, presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon said in a press briefing in Seoul on Monday.

In the Cabinet meeting, Han said he and Xi had discussions about a “South Korea-China-Japan summit, expansion of trade, culture and people-to-people exchanges between Korea and China, shuttle diplomacy at various levels and economy ministry exchanges,” Lee said.
A presidential official told reporters that shuttle diplomacy referred to the “intention of expanding exchanges between South Korean and Chinese officials at all levels, from ministerial to working-level.”

During the meeting with Han in Hangzhou Saturday, Xi indicated he will “seriously consider” a visit to South Korea, raising the issue first, a senior Korean government official said Saturday. Xi last visited South Korea in 2014.

The meeting between Han and Xi is seen to have set in motion discussions for a Korea-Japan-China summit to be hosted by South Korea and also a possible visit to Seoul by the Chinese leader.

The three-way summit, which involves the Chinese premier, was last held in 2019 in China.

Han is the first South Korean prime minister to make a visit to China in over four years, while Yoon and Xi held their first bilateral talks on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022.

Earlier this month, Yoon met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Jakarta on the sidelines of Asean-related meetings, asking China to “fulfill a responsible role” on the North Korean nuclear issue as a permanent member of the UN Security Council so that it doesn’t become an “obstacle” in bilateral ties. He also signaled hopes for an early holding of the trilateral summit with Japan and for strengthening of economic ties.

A series of meetings between South Korean, Chinese and Japanese diplomats will take place this week, providing an occasion to discuss the resumption of the trilateral summit and other issues.

However, the presidential office has been cautious about confirming details about a potential visit by Xi.

A senior presidential official told reporters Sunday that “both countries will make efforts regarding President Xi’s visit to Korea, but nothing has been decided yet.”

The official said that Xi’s visit to Korea “is being pursued separately” from the trilateral summit.

“South Korea and China are neighboring countries, and we maintain the position that we will continue to cooperate as long as we share the principles of mutual respect and compliance with international norms,” the official added.

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Yoon also called on his aides to take follow-up measures in the Cabinet meeting reviewing the results of his six-day trip to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

Yoon stressed during his address to the UN General Assembly that South Korea will promote international peace based on norms and the rule of law. South Korea is set to serve a two-year term as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council starting next year.

“A permanent member of the Security Council launched an armed invasion, started a war and blatantly violated Security Council resolutions,” Yoon said at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting, in reference to Russia.

Yoon said he pointed out that if there is a continuation of “neglecting, assisting and making deals with regimes devoted to nuclear development,” there will be more criticism of the self-contradictions of the current UN Security Council system and calls for reform will inevitably grow.

Both Beijing and Moscow are veto-wielding members of the Security Council, but Yoon took a stern tone with Russia at the United Nations in light of growing concerns of a potential weapons deal with North Korea amid the war in Ukraine.

During this trip, Yoon engaged in a relay of diplomatic engagements to promote Busan’s 2030 World Expo bid on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, holding 41 bilateral summits and meeting with 47 leaders over the course of his six-day trip to New York.

“If we hold the conviction that the global market and Expo are in our hands and run toward them, they will come to us,” Yoon told his aides.

Busan is up against Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh and Italy’s Rome, with a secret ballot by the Bureau International des Expositions set for late November.

Yoon said that he stressed a Korea-hosted Expo will be a “value-oriented Expo that will change the paradigm of the international community from one of competition to one of solidarity.”

He added that an Expo in Busan with be an occasion for countries to share their achievements and “gain an opportunity to make a big leap in their science and technology and industry” together.

Yoon had a nosebleed in the middle of the Cabinet meeting “due to overworking” from his back-to-back schedules, a presidential official said.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]