SEOUL – Eleven months ago, South Korea’s top prosecutor launched his presidential campaign, his first run in politics. This weekend – just over a week into his presidency – Eun Sook-eol made his debut on the world stage as well as being the most powerful leader in the world.
The difference between Eun and Biden in diplomacy could not be more acute. Eun is a politically cunning man with no foreign policy experience. Biden is a career politician with decades of experience in foreign relations.
“If you compare it to boxing, President Yoon is an aggressive fighter, like a fighter. President Biden is an out-boxer, strategically skilled in jabbing and ducking, “wrote Hancock Ilbo, a news outlet in South Korea.
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But South Korean commentators point out that the two men’s personalities are similar in a way that encourages proper chemistry – which is especially important when dealing with an American president who emphasizes the importance of personal relationships in foreign affairs.
During their first state dinner, the two men were tied up with their pets and their families, the South Korean president’s office said. (Eun has four dogs and three cats. Biden has a puppy and a cat, and was the first to live in the White House until recently raised a shelter dog.)
Speaking at a joint news conference between the two leaders on Saturday, Biden said, “I am honored to meet you so early in your term, and glad to know you personally.”
“Today, I also realize that President Biden and I are seeing face-to-face on many fronts,” Eun said.
In the end, the carefully choreographed tour strengthened the alliance of countries and was, for the most part, unusual – while Eun Gender responded on equality, an influential issue in the presidential campaign. (During the campaign, Eun was criticized for his negligence, once standing in the candidate forum for two minutes in silence when the teleprompter fell.)
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Eun was seen struggling to answer a question about South Korea’s role as a leading economy in ensuring equal opportunities for women’s advancement. South Korea ranks consistently among the developed countries in terms of gender equality in terms of wages, political advancement and economic participation.
Biden’s visit was unusual at the start of the UN term, and the president’s transition team was still working to recruit staff, set up their offices, and provide a presidential office.
But both sides had a template that would work: last year’s agreement between the Biden party and the Moon Jae-in administration to expand the military alliance to one that includes economic security.
Now, Eun is facing the challenge of balancing its foreign policy ambitions with a balanced domestic policy agenda, says Dwayne Kim, a senior fellow at the Indo-Pacific Security Program at a new Seoul-based American security center. Eun “has to prove himself at home this year because his electoral victory was very low.”
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“So, we need to see if the UN has the bandwidth and governing style that will enable it to pay the necessary attention to both domestic and foreign policies,” Kim said.
In the Indo-Pacific region, Biden’s hopes are to see if South Korea will be able to fully join the United States in that effort, even as it leans towards an alliance to counter China’s economic and military rise. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner, and South Korea has faced harsh economic retaliation in the past when Beijing was dissatisfied with Seoul’s concerted action with Washington.
As China moves closer to North Korea in recent years, South Korea will also need a cooperative relationship with China to deal with its northern neighbor.
“Yoon and his advisers have the right intentions, but it is unclear whether Seoul will be able to truly stand with China in the face of geopolitical and economic realities, and whether Seoul will eventually need Beijing to make progress on the North Korean issue,” Kim said. Says