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(News Focus) Moon's November summit diplomacy in disarray after Chile cancels APEC

Politics 10:51 October 31, 2019

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Oct. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in was gearing up for a round of hectic summit diplomacy in November, but it faces some uncertainty from Chile's abrupt announcement to call off an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.

Moon planned to attend the two-day session, supposed to open in Santiago on Nov. 16, following a one-night stopover in Mexico for bilateral summit talks with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

In the Chilean capital, Moon was seeking to hold one-on-one summits with some of the 19 other participants in APEC, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of the annual gathering.

Cheong Wa Dae initially responded cautiously to Chile's decision.

"We are aware of the news. We will have to keep an eye on (related) situations, going forward," Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Ko Min-jung said in a brief text message sent to reporters Wednesday night.

The next morning, a Cheong Wa Dae official said Chile's announcement has caught those who have prepared for Moon's APEC attendance off guard. The president is on special leave due to the loss of his mother earlier this week.

"I think we are going to have to reschedule the November schedule," he said.

President Moon Jae-in and other global leaders pose for souvenir photos at the end of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Papua New Guinea on Nov. 17, 2018. (Yonhap)

He did not rule out the possibility that APEC members will seek an alternative venue. He pointed out media reports that Trump, in particular, has been looking forward to joining this year's APEC summit in search of a breakthrough trade deal with Xi.

The White House said it still hopes for Trump-Xi talks in November despite Chile's move. Technically, Chile has withdrawn as host of this year's APEC, and it can take place at another location.

Another Cheong Wa Dae official, however, said chances are low that APEC leaders will reach an agreement on a new venue fast enough for adequate preparations within the next couple of weeks.

"Basically, President Moon won't likely attend an APEC session (this year)," the official said. "We need to review the Mexico visit issue."

It would be "physically" difficult for the president to spend a few days and nights in flight for such a short trip, but Cheong Wa Dae is considering relations with Mexico, according to the official.

Moon is expected to return to work this weekend, and his office emphasized his resolve to keep summit diplomacy schedules intact in spite of the Tuesday passing of his mother.

He is scheduled to head to Bangkok for the ASEAN Plus Three summit on Sunday. Trump and Xi are not attending it, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will apparently be present.

It seems clear that Moon and Abe have no plan for a separate meeting there amid a drawn-out chill in diplomatic ties between their countries.

APEC in Chile was more expected to set the stage for a possible showdown between Moon and Abe just ahead of the Nov. 22 termination of a Seoul-Tokyo accord on sharing military information.

In his personal letter recently conveyed to Abe, Moon reaffirmed that he's open to one-on-one dialogue.

Now that Moon has also sought at least one more bilateral meeting with Trump to discuss North Korea and pending alliance issues before the end of this year, Chile was an optimal venue.

Moon's aides said if an alternative international meeting is held, involving Trump and Xi, Moon can be there.

The president hoped to use this year's APEC, along with the ASEAN Plus Three summit, as an opportunity to draw more global attention to the South Korea-ASEAN special summit to be held in Busan in late November.

South Korea has long taken advantage of APEC as a major summit diplomacy channel. It played host to an APEC summit in 2005 and is scheduled to host another one in 2025.

This year also marks the 30th founding anniversary of APEC.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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