South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is under fire for opting not to cut his holiday short in order to meet face-to-face with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday — with critics accusing him of not wanting to antagonize China following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
The conservative leader’s official reason for not seeing the California Democrat during her brief visit to Seoul was that he had already scheduled time off for a pre-planned summer vacation, his office said.
But local media and other critics quickly slammed the South Korean leader, accusing Yoon of prioritizing strong ties with China — South Korea’s biggest trading partner.
Yoon opted to hold a 40-minute phone call with Pelosi, during which they discussed the US-South Korean alliance, foreign policy and other issues, his office said.
In the wake of the backlash, Yoon’s office insisted the president’s summer staycation plan had already been set up when Pelosi’s office reached out about a possible meeting roughly two weeks ago.
The South Korean leader opted to stay home, rest and plan for future political activities, his office said, according to the Washington Post.
Still, the criticism of Yoon only ramped up after it was revealed he attended a theater show in Seoul just before Pelosi’s plane touched down Wednesday night — and photos of the South Korean leader socializing with actors were later shared on social media.
“Pelosi is the number three politician in the US, and if this were in the past, the president or the foreign minister would have tried to hold talks with her, but I think that this time the government seems to have decided not to excessively politicize the issue and unnecessarily antagonize China,” Kim Heung-kyu, director of the US-China Policy Institute at Ajou University, told the Korea Times.
The president’s decision to stick to his plan came after Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan infuriated China and further inflamed tensions between Beijing and Washington.
As Pelosi left Taiwan on Wednesday en route to South Korea, China’s military set off its largest air and sea drills near the Taiwanese Strait in more than 25 years.
Yoon’s office said the president did not raise the Taiwan saga with Pelosi during their call.
Pelosi met with Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, during her official stop in Taipei — as well as with the heads of government in Malaysia and Singapore, her first two stops on the trip. She is also scheduled to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday.