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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 13)

All News 06:59 June 13, 2022

Expanding diplomatic horizons
NATO summit offers both opportunities and challenges

President Yoon Suk-yeol's plan to attend a NATO summit will mark a turning point in South Korea's multilateral diplomacy. The gathering, scheduled for June 29 and 30 in the Spanish capital of Madrid, will provide a rare opportunity for Yoon to expand the country's diplomatic horizons by stepping up security cooperation with the regional alliance.

He will be the country's first president to take part in a summit of NATO, which was created in 1949. Yoon's participation will come as the leader of a NATO partner country, as Korea is not a member of the transatlantic organization. The upcoming summit is drawing much attention as the leaders of Asia-Pacific partners such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand are expected to get together with those of the 30 NATO members.

Particularly, the meeting carries significance as NATO is likely to adopt a new strategic concept to expand its role beyond the North Atlantic region to better cope with threats from China in the Asia-Pacific region. This concept is certainly in line with U.S. President Joe Biden's push for an international coalition to counter Beijing's growing regional and global influence.

The meeting will also be held against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. NATO is expected to reaffirm its collective security commitments, realign its military preparedness and find a new role in the Asia-Pacific region. Biden has already emphasized the importance of strengthening U.S.' alliances and partnerships with like-minded democracies to promote a rules-based international order.

NATO's invitation of President Yoon to the summit is a testament to Korea's rising international status and its strategic value in the Asia-Pacific. It is also a thinly veiled call on South Korea to join the U.S.-led efforts to check the rise of China. Thus, the summit will also put Yoon to a major diplomatic test. That is why Yoon needs to take a cautious approach to avoid a new Cold War confrontation with China, Russia and North Korea.

Yoon's attendance in the summit will be his first overseas trip since his May 10 inauguration. A presidential official said that the meeting will be "an important opportunity to strengthen cooperation with NATO allies and partners to maintain the values- and rules-based international order and our country's role as a global pivotal nation." Yoon can ask for NATO's cooperation in coping with North Korea's continuing launches of ballistic missiles including ICBMs and a possible seventh nuclear test.

Yoon can hold multiple bilateral summits with the participating leaders. There is also the possibility of his one-on-one meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. If such a meeting takes place, it could pave the way for a breakthrough in Seoul-Tokyo ties, which have hit the lowest level since the 1965 diplomatic normalization. It is necessary for the two leaders to narrow their differences over historical issues such as wartime forced labor and sex slavery. We hope Yoon will produce successful results out of the NATO summit.

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