Nancy Pelosi’s Asia tour included a series of high-profile meetings: talks with the prime ministers of Singapore and Malaysia; a meeting with Taiwan’s president; and a possible dialogue with Japan’s prime minister by the end of the week.
Missing from this list is the president of South Korea, who missed a one-on-one meeting with the Speaker of the House as he resides in Seoul.
Ms. Pelosi arrived in South Korea on Wednesday afternoon. While Yoon Suk-yeol was in northern Seoul attending a play, he takes selfies and dines with the cast of a comedy about a subway station worker.
Mr. Yoon’s office explained that he was not available to meet the US leader in person.
“I have received questions about whether the president avoided meeting with the speaker of the House because he was wary of China.” his spokesman said The Washington Post. “All these things are decided based on a thorough consideration of the national interest of our country.”
Instead, the allied pair 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 Speaker of the House, for her part, appeared satisfied with the South Korea leg of the tour, which included talks with the Speaker of the South Korean National Assembly and a visit to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
“A relationship that began with urgency and security many years ago has become the warmest friendship,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference with South Korean leaders.
“We want to promote security, economy and governance in an interparliamentary way,” he added.
Domestically, the perceived snub was met with a mixed reaction.
South Korean opposition member Kim Eui-kyeom praised Mr. Yoon for the omission, saying he avoided “jumping into the fire of the US-China conflict” that continued Ms. Pelosi’s trip, especially her controversial Taiwan leg.
“Yun avoiding meeting with Pelosi may send wrong messages to US and China,” says right-wing Chosun Ilbo The newspaper argued in an editorial, warning of a “condescending attitude” towards Xi Jinping.
Mr Yoon, who took office in May, argued on the campaign trail that coexistence with the US and China was possible. The former is a major defense partner to South Korea and the latter is South Korea’s largest trading partner.
“It’s still early in his presidency and Yun has to walk a fine line,” said Choi Jin, head of the Seoul-based Presidential Leadership Institute. he said The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Yoon has not always tiptoed around China’s wishes.
In June, he angered China by attending a NATO summit in Madrid, while this month South Korea’s military will resume full-scale military exercises with the US.