South Korean president misses Pelosi meeting for staycation

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Nancy Pelosi’s much-watched Asia tour has included a run of high-profile meetings: conversations with the prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia; a meeting with the president of Taiwan; and a likely dialogue with the prime minister of Japan by the end of the week.

Missing from that list is the president of South Korea, who missed an in-person get together with the House Speaker as he takes a staycation in Seoul.

Ms Pelosi arrived in South Korea on Wednesday evening. At the time Yoon Suk-yeol was in north Seoul attending a theater performance, grabbing selfies and dinner with the cast of a comedy about a subway station worker.

Mr Yoon’s office has explained he was unavailable to meet in person with the US leader.

“I have received questions about whether the president avoided meeting with the House speaker because he was wary of China,” his spokesperson told The Washington Post. “All these things are decided based on a thorough consideration of our country’s national interest.”

Instead, the pair of allies had a 40-minute phone meeting on Thursday.

The pair discussed the US alliance with South Korea and “deterrence” against North Korea, according to a readout of the call.

The House Speaker, for her part, seemed pleased with the South Korean leg of the tour, which included conversations with the Speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, and a visit to the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea.

“A relationship that began from urgency and security many years ago has become the warmest of friendships,” Ms Pelosi said at a press conference with South Korean leaders.

“We want to advance security, economy and governance in an inter-parliamentary way,” she added.

Internally, the perceived snub was met with a mix of reactions.

South Korean opposition member Kim Eui-kyeom praised Mr Yoon for skipping out, saying he had avoided “jumping into the fire of the US-China conflict” that has dogged Ms Pelosi’s trip, especially its controversial leg in Taiwan.

“Yoon’s avoidance of Pelosi meeting may send wrong signals to the U.S. and China,” the right-leaning Chosun Ilbo newspaper argued in an editorial, warning of a “submissive attitude” towards Xi Jinping.

Mr Yoon, who took office in May, argued on the campaign trail it was possible to coexist with the US and China; the former is a major defence partner in South Korea and the latter who is the South Korea’s largest trading partner.

“It’s still early on in his presidency and Yoon has to walk a fine line,” Choi Jin, head of the Seoul-based Institute of Presidential Leadership think tank, told The Wall Street Journal.

Mr Yoon hasn’t always tiptoed around China’s wishes.

In June, he angered China by attending a Nato summit in Madrid, while this month the South Korean military will resume full-scale military drills with the US.

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