President Moon's Communications Secy. Reviews Moon's G7 Cornwall, Europe Tour
Updated: 2021-06-18 13:36:09 KST
President Moon Jae-in wrapped up his eight-day European trip which took him to the G7 Summit in Cornwall, the UK, where South Korea was invited as one of the four guest nations then Austria and Spain on state visits.
The South Korean leader's Europe tour - the first in pandemic times.
It's the topic of our News In-depth - I spoke to Park Soo-hyun, President Moon's senior secretary for public communication for an overall review.
Blue House Sarangchae
I want to begin with the G7 Cornwall Summit. South Korea along with Australia, India and South Africa were the host country, UK's "plus four," if you will, to the seaside resort town this year.
The G7 Cornwall largely focused on ending the pandemic, reinvigorating ecnomies, protecting the planet and embracing the values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
What does the President think South Korea has been able to bring to the G7 table this time around and how was it received by the other members?
The G7 Summit was a chance to reaffirm South Korea's elevated status on the global stage. As also witnessed during the recent S. Korea, U.S. Washington summit, it was an opportunity for us to verify South Korea's changed status from a once recipient country to a donor nation, a contributor to the global community in partnership with the world's most advanced nations.
As you said, the G7 Cornwall was largely focused on pandemic response and economic recovery in the post-Covid-19 era, and South Korea was invited and touted by the leaders there as a model nation in this aspect.
I believe it's also significant that South Korea was able to send out a message of hope to the rest of the world, in this respect.
Not only did the President take part in some of the plenary and outreach sessions, the G7 Cornwall provided a venue for the South Korean leader to have both sideline one-on-ones as well as the more informal pull asides with many of the leaders there. What was the President able to bring back from these talks?
For any country, multilateral talks serve as an opportunity to broaden the agenda for its national interest, and sideline bilateral summits between South Korea and the UK and South Korea and the EU had been arranged already ahead of President Moon's departure for the G7. But, one-on-ones like the one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were arranged on-site following a strong request from the German leader as both President Moon and Chancellor Merkel are in their final year in office. This was also the case with French President Emmanuel Macron who's always been fond of President Moon as the two leaders believe they share many commonalities as the leaders of governments that restored democracy in their respective nations. Although brief, the two leaders had the opportunity to reaffirm their shared values of democracy.
Covid-19 is hindering our path towards the 4th Industrial Revolution, but participating nations at the G7 reaffirmed the need for cooperation to reach shared goals. I believe the bilateral talks, albeit short, will lead to working-level talks that will produce tangible outcome.
Do you have any behind the scenes stories that you'd like to share with us?
At such multilateral dialogues, it's hard to expect a formal protocol to be in place. Because only limited number of guests are allowed in the actual venue, the leaders, just like us ordinary people, grab hands and ask for coffee together and that's very often how pull-aside summits happen.
This was the case between President Moon and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 Cornwall.
We can easily witness leaders building stronger bonds and creating chemistry at such informal chats arranged on-site.
Under U.S. President Biden's lead, the G7 member nations issued a confrontational declaration against Russia and China's increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region. But not everyone was willing to go all the way when it came to finding common ground on big issues.
Do you think President Moon did a good job at balancing relations with the U.S. and China in Cornwall?
I think it's important for us to remember that South Korea is not a member of the G7. Therefore, it may be inappropriate to make any official statement on the matter as South Korea did not take part in or sign the joint declaration. Now, having said that, it is true that there is always the issue of balance. We think that balancing international relations must be strictly based on our national interest. There are certain things that each country wants from us, and we believe that we should handle matters with justifiable reasons. In that aspect, I believe President Moon handled the issue very well.
At the onset of the Biden administration, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Washington's relationship with Beijing as being competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be. Secretary Blinken then went on to say he understands how complicated a relationship it must be between South Korea and China when the two are so close geographically when U.S., China relations are already that complicated.
At the same time, despite some sensitive agreements at the South Korea-U.S. summit such as the lifting of South Korea's missile guidelines, I'm sure you remember China's response was quite measured and diplomatic which also reflects that China, too, understands the importance of South Korea-U.S. alliance to our country. So I believe the key to maintaining a balanced approach is to provide accurate and principled explanation of South Korea's position from a national interest-point of view.
Looking at his itinerary as a whole including in Austria and Spain, it's rather clear that vaccine diplomacy was up high on his agenda, this time. He met with the CEO of AstraZeneca and held a virtual meeting with the chief of Germany's CureVac. I think there is a consensus - at least among some of the British officials that I've spoken to - regarding South Korea as being an obvious base for expanding vaccine production. Does the President return with any news on this front? What kind of vaccine cooperation can we expect as South Korea looks to become a manufacturing hub for supply in Asia and beyond?
Jennifer, I think you provided all the answers in your question, already.
You're absolutely right. Vaccine diplomacy was most definitely one of the President's highest priorities during this trip. As we will need vaccines not only for this year, but for next year and perhaps for years to come, securing a stable vaccine supply network remains a key national agenda.
Since AstraZeneca is the first vaccine that South Korea secured and is one of our main vaccines, the President's meeting with the CEO of AstraZeneca set the groundwork for a steady supply of the vaccines in the years to come.
In the case of CureVac, it was significant in that it could possibly lead to a new route in securing Covid-19 vaccines.
Likewise, as mentioned earlier during the S. Korea-U.S. Summit, we have an ambitious plan to make South Korea a global hub for vaccine production. We continue to cooperate with not only U.S. companies, but also with pharmaceutical firms in Europe and the G7 to diversify our reach. In the end, securing the foundations of vaccine production will establish a solid foothold for us to secure vaccine supply, not only for those of us in this country, but also for the rest of the world.
The President's state visit to Spain on the final leg of his Europe tour appears to have yielded some tangible bilateral cooperation especially on green and digital economic fronts and of course there is the travel bubble that the two countries agreed to. What are some key takeaways from President Moon's Spain visit?
The President's state visits to Austria and Spain were return visits in nature in that when Austrian Chancellor Kurz and His Majesty King Felipe the Sixth of Spain visited Korea in 2019, they had extended an invite for a return visit by President Moon.
The plan was to reciprocate the visit in 2019 or in 2020, but due to the circumstances owing to the pandemic, he hadn't been able to until this time around.
As for Austria, next year marks the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and South Korea. Yet, no President of the Republic of Korea had ever made a visit to Austria. So, it's a meaningful first visit by President Moon and we were able to upgrade our relations to a strategic partnership.
When it comes to Spain, - although not many of us may be aware of this - Spain is one of the leading countries in the construction industry. In fact, Spain ranks second in terms of overseas construction orders, and we laid some important groundwork for joint overseas construction in a third country.
Spain, in particular, is a core nation among Spanish-speaking countries… so I believe our cooperation could serve as a stepping stone for South Korean firms make further advancements in this part of the world.
At the Spanish Senate library, the president was shown an ancient map - one of the oldest known maps showing Joseon - drawn by a French cartographer labeling Dokdo as Korean territory. The President seemed quite impressed by this finding. How was this arranged?
After President Moon delivered the speech at the Senate, he was ushered into the Senate library by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the Congress of Deputies. There they showed President Moon an old map called "Royaume de Coree (Kingdom of Korea)."
I'm not sure if you can see it clearly, but I have a picture here of the chief librarian of the Senate library showing the ancient map to President Moon explaining that this map would be a meaningful record for Koreans. President Moon said that this is a very valuable document that clearly shows that Dokdo is a part of Korean territory. It is the oldest map depicting the Joseon Kingdom made by a European, made in the 1730s, and the map clearly marks Dokdo and Ulleung-do Island as territories of the Kingdom of Korea.
This is a valuable document amid the ongoing dispute between South Korea and Japan over Dokdo, as President Moon put it and the fact that Spain, as far as I see it, who understand the significance of this document, introduced the South Korean president this map saying it would be a meaningful document for Koreans is in and of itself quite significant.
It was quite timely, I must say, especially with another heightening in tensions over Japan's territorial claims over the island - on its Olympics map, for one. How does South Korea plan to address this issue with the Tokyo Olympics now just about five weeks away?
If I may, I'd like to give you an analogy.
When you're about to cross a stream and there are stones in the water, we want these rocks to serve as stepping stones for us to cross the stream rather than as stumbling blocks.
Korea and Japan have many issues between us, both historic and other sense as well, as we are such close neighbors. I don't think such issues can be an obstacle in developing bilateral relations. I believe that we will be able to find a good solution to all the issue you mentioned through diplomatic dialogue, and I think that diplomatic relations and diplomatic approach between the two countries should and can be more elegant as we share a long history of ties.
As you know, South Korea has always taken the two-track approach when it comes to relationship with Japan, separating historical issues and developing a future-oriented relationship.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea has already expressed support for the success of the Tokyo Olympics and we continue to view this issue with a very open attitude that the practical issues between the two countries and the Olympics should also be looked at separately.
As we are looking at it in such an elegant and open manner, we look forward to Japan reciprocating with an equivalent degree of dignity and diplomacy in its approach.
U.S. President Biden's Special Representative on North Korea, Sung Kim, is due in Seoul next week for a three-way meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. Looking at it from a larger picture, both the North Korea issue and the Seoul-Tokyo relations, how does the President plan to address these issues in his remaining time in office?
The establishment of North Korea policies during the Trump-Biden transition was something crucial that would determine the fate of the Korean Peninsula. Many predicted the Biden administration to scrap or make drastic changes to the previous administration's North Korea policy.
However, for South Korea, it was important for us that Washington's new administration build its North Korea policy on the Singapore Summit and the Panmunjeom Declaration.
That was our request to the Biden administration from the very beginning and that they adopt a gradual, pragmatic, flexible, step-for-step approach to North Korea.
As you can see in the S. Korea, U.S. Joint Statement following the latest summit between Presidents Moon and Biden, our request was embraced to a large extent.
I think President Moon has been successful in yielding good results since the launch of the Biden administration and in re-establishing an extremely important stepping stone for resolving the North Korea nuclear issue and bringing peace on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea is also most likely contemplating what message to send back and I believe they are probably interpreting and analyzing the U.S. message in a very favorable manner.
Even though President Moon has just about a year left in his term, I think he has already made considerable progress, in this regard.
I think the U.S. and North Korea will exchange messages on the occasion of the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim's visit to Seoul this time and I think we can expect a good message from the North as there have been good messages to North Korea, as well.
I'm sure this will provide a good opportunity to drive forward the Korean Peninsula peace process once again which could resolve the relationship with North Korea.
In that sense, our relationship with Japan and the trilateral cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington is a very important asset in solving issues related to North Korea and the Korean Peninsula. If we can bring about a consensus that we would truly like to talk to North Korea by operating these channels, I believe that Sung Kim's visit to Seoul will be a great opportunity to get a good message from North Korea.
Is there a possibility of contact between North Korea and the U.S.?
Yes, of course, contact between North Korea and the U.S. is a very important and fundamental tool for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and North Korea. Therefore, if there is a good signal for improvement in inter-Korean relations, I it can serve as a catalyst for North Korea-U.S. dialogues and enhanced relations between the two.
We all have our fingers crossed for that.
Park Soo-hyun, South Korean President Moon's senior secretary for public communication. Many thanks for your time and insights, today. I appreciate it.