President Yoon Suk-yeol flies to Madrid on Monday to attend a NATO summit on Wednesday and Thursday. This is his first overseas trip since his inauguration, and he will be the first Korean president to attend a summit of NATO countries.
The summit is being held amid war in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and growing tensions between the U.S. and China.
Yoon will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines on Wednesday in the first trilateral summit in nearly five years after relations between Seoul and Tokyo chilled to freezing point.
A presidential official told reporters on Sunday, “Yoon will speak about Korea’s proactive role in responding to multiple international security crises and call for consistent attention and support from the international community to denuclearize North Korea.”
But Yoon and Kishida are unlikely to sit down one-on-one in Madrid as the Japanese government is keen to shore up support from nationalists in elections for the Japanese House of Councilors in July.
“After the upper house elections, discussions about a Korea-Japan foreign ministers’ meeting will gain traction, and momentum for resolving thorny issues will grow, including compensation for wartime force laborers,” the presidential official said.
Yoon will also meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Spanish King Felipe and the leaders of a dozen countries such as Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands and the U.K.
There are concerns about China’s reaction to Korea’s participation in the summit. The NATO summit will adopt the “2022 Strategic Concept,” a security strategy against threats from China and Russia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin last week warned against any moves that create division and confrontation “behind the façade” of NATO.
A planned quadrilateral summit between Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand on the sidelines of the NATO meet seems to have been canceled because it could give the impression of an anti-China front forming in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Yoon will be accompanied by first lady Kim Keon-hee, who will attend a dinner hosted by the Spanish king and queen at the Royal Palace in Madrid on Tuesday, and visit royal palaces, a royal glass factory, and the Sofia National Gallery as well as attend a dinner hosted by Korean nationals in Spain on Wednesday.
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