President-elect Yoon Seok-yeol initially announced his plan to dispatch special envoys to only the United States and EU before his inauguration. This excluded China, Japan, and Russia where previous incoming administrations had traditionally deployed representatives. Although additional envoys to Japan and China were ultimately announced after criticism from the former UN Secretary-General, the incident may signal how Yoon administration will approach foreign policy more broadly.
Incoming administrations in South Korea traditionally sent envoys to four countries regardless of the president-elect’s party affiliation or policy agenda. In 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun set the precedent by sending delegates to the United States, China, Russia, and Japan with a focus on establishing the groundwork for collectively addressing North Korea’s nuclear provocations. In 2007, President Lee Myung-bak sent envoys to the same countries to emphasize his vision for balanced diplomacy. And in 2016, President Moon Jae-in also sent a delegation to the EU to reaffirm South Korea’s global engagement.
The exception to this tradition is President Park Geun-hye who excluded Japan and Russia from the list in 2013 and sent envoys exclusively to the United States and China. Observers attribute this shift to her foreign policy agenda not focusing on restoring the relationship with Japan or deepening ties with Russia.
Yoon’s earlier decision to exclude China partially reflects his campaign promise to emphasize South Korea’s strategic relationship with the West over Beijing. This is also constituent with statements that the president-elect made during the campaign on expanding South Korea’s cooperation with the U.S.-led Quad working group and working more closely with Western governments on shared global challenges.
This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Kayla Harris, David Lee, Sarah Marshall, and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the facebook account of Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea