South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol leaves for Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Bali, Indonesia on Thursday to attend the ASEAN and G20 summits. It is his third business trip overseas and multilateral diplomatic summits following the NATO summit in June and the UN General Assembly in September. For his trip for six days and four nights, Yoon will have various bilateral and multilateral dialogues with world leaders, including the summit among Korea, the U.S., and Japan.
The ASEAN and G20 summits are the multilateral diplomatic venues that are held in the buffer zone to keep a distance from global political tensions amid the New Cold War and explore survival strategies maintaining a neutral stance. It may serve as an opportunity to broaden the diplomatic horizons for the leader of South Korea, who has been focusing on enhancing the ROKUS alliance and the solidarity of the liberalist camp for the last six months since his inauguration. Broadening the scope of his diplomatic network in an arena of competition where the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific Strategy and China’s One Belt One Road would run up against each other, and a diplomatic scene that absorbs such collision will be a priceless experience to have.
Moreover, ASEAN is Korea’s key trade and investment partner, following China and the U.S. Amid the economies of the U.S. and China increasingly growing apart, ASEAN is becoming ever more important as an alternative to the Chinese market that Korea has been relying on. In the meeting, Yoon will introduce the Korean version of the Indo-Pacific Strategy built upon the values of freedom, peace, and prosperity and present ways to boost solidarity with the ASEAN countries. His presentation is expected to include an attractive scheme to expand the scope of the country’s diplomacy beyond the Korean peninsula and the four neighboring economies.
During the three-day summit of G20, President Yoon will attend the event for two days and return home. It may be a decision considering the mourning atmosphere in the country after the deadly Halloween disaster. Still, there remains a wonder if he had no option but to shorten his schedule for summit diplomacy. Furthermore, he excluded MBC reporters from his presidential jet because of what his office described as ‘repeated distortion and biased reporting’ on diplomatic issues, sparking an intense backlash from the media and the opposition party. He must ponder hard over the rash decision that made him knock down the diplomatic foundation himself, which is people’s support and encouragement.
Diplomacy that pursues national interest through relations with other countries and the president’s summit diplomacy, in particular, should be free from domestic politics. Amid the dramatic shifts in the international order, Korea faces North Korea’s nuclear issue and complex economic crisis. Political controversies and conflicts only make the nation’s diplomacy drift along. Yoon’s diplomatic visit this time should put the national interest first and serve as an opportunity for the country to elevate its national prestige in the world.