South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has been accused of trying to appease China by avoiding Nancy Pelosi, a day after she became the highest ranking US official to visit Taiwan for a quarter of century and sparked a furious response from Beijing.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, would speak to Pelosi on the phone but not meet her in person when she visits Seoul on Thursday, South Korean media said.
Yoon reportedly planned a summer vacation long before the U.S. House Speaker’s decision to visit the region, which included a controversial stopover in Taiwan on Wednesday that drew threats of retaliation from China. The South Korean leader is said to be in Seoul.
Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be part of Chinese territory, on Thursday began four days of “unprecedented” live-fire exercises at six locations encircling the island, in a show of force meant to communicate its anger to Washington and Taipei. .
He also summoned the US ambassador to Beijing and banned thousands of food imports from Taiwan.
Critics accused Yoon of avoiding Pelosi to avoid antagonizing China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. South Korean broadcaster TBS quoted a presidential Blue House official as denying that China had been a factor in Yoon’s decision not to meet Pelosi, as his itinerary was finalized before his visit was announced.
During Pelosi’s last visit to South Korea, in 2015, she met with then-president Park Geun-hye and then-foreign minister Yun Byung-se.
Kim Heung-kyu, director of the US-China Policy Institute at Ajou University, told The Korea Times. “Pelosi is the number three politician in the United States, and if it was in the past, the president or the foreign secretary would have tried to talk to her, but I think this time the government seems to have decided not to. not to politicize the issue too much and antagonize China unnecessarily.
Pelosi has met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and is expected to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Friday. Pelosi said Wednesday that his visit to Taiwan showed “unequivocally” that the United States “won’t give up” on its Democratic ally.
In Seoul, she was due to meet her South Korean counterpart, National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, as well as members of the ruling and main opposition parties.
Reportedly, Pelosi and Kim would issue a joint statement and summarize their discussions on North Korea and regional security, but would not take questions from reporters.
Pelosi also plans to visit the truce village of Panmunjom, located along the heavily armed border between South Korea and North Korea.
A possible meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin was ruled out after he left for Cambodia on Wednesday morning to attend an ASEAN meeting.
In Tokyo, Pelosi and Kishida are expected to reiterate their commitment to U.S.-Japan cooperation to secure a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region amid growing Chinese military activity in the South and East China Seas.