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State visit to U.S. is evolution of ties, not aimed at isolating China: Foreign minister

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Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks at a forum hosted by the Korea Press Foundation in Jung District, central Seoul, on Monday. [YONHAP]
Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks at a forum hosted by the Korea Press Foundation in Jung District, central Seoul, on Monday. [YONHAP]

Foreign Minister Park Jin said Monday that President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit to the United States represented the evolution of the two countries’ ties from a military and political alliance to a partnership based on shared democratic values, adding that it was not aimed at “isolating a particular country,” such as China.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Korea Press Foundation on Monday, Park characterized talks between Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden as focusing on “the blueprint for the development of a new Korea-U.S. alliance based on freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”

Park said Yoon’s visit to Washington should not elicit an adverse reaction from Beijing, noting that “there are many roles China can play as a geopolitical player around the Korean Peninsula” and that South Korea “will seek to cooperate and engage with China in different ways,” especially where North Korea’s military threats are concerned.

“As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, we expect China to fully understand its role and responsibility for international peace,” Park said, adding that Beijing should consider “if North Korea threatening the stability of the peninsula serves China’s own national interests.”

The foreign minister also emphasized the importance of “peace and stability in the waters surrounding Taiwan,” noting that the international community does not support attempts to enforce “unilateral changes” in the status quo over the self-governing island.

Park said he hopes that Chinese President Xi Jinping would visit Korea “to continue the mature and healthy relationship” between Seoul and Beijing, adding he “expects it to become a reality in the near future” through “high-level strategic communication.”

The foreign minister pushed back against criticism that the Korea-U.S. Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) announced in the Washington Declaration by Yoon and Biden would bolster Seoul’s security less than if tactical nuclear weapons were re-deployed to the peninsula or a nuclear sharing framework with South Korea were established.

Nuclear sharing refers to an arrangement whereby some NATO states, such as Germany and Turkey, participate in storing and planning the use of U.S. nuclear weapons in the absence of their own deterrent.

“If U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are re-deployed [to South Korea], they could be targeted by the North,” Park said.

The foreign minister also argued that the re-deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, while Seoul and Washington are pursuing Pyongyang’s complete and irreversible denuclearization, would be “contradictory.”

Although the U.S. government previously stationed tactical nuclear weapons with its military forces in South Korea in its standoff with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it withdrew them in September 1991 after signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in July of the same year.

The two Koreas adopted the “Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in February of the following year.

Park said the Yoon administration believes that the new NCG between Seoul and Washington is the most “desirable and realistic solution” after considering the need to maintain secrecy concerning the whereabouts of U.S. nuclear weapons while maintaining the country’s past commitments.

Explaining the Washington Declaration’s staying power, Park said, “It may not be a formal treaty or accord, but it is a document agreed to and signed by the highest leaders of our two countries.”

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]