Yoon's omission is a sign of strength
On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol made his debut on the stage of the United Nations. In his speech at the 77th UN General Assembly, Yoon urged the international community to jointly overcome the global crisis after the Covid-19 pandemic “through the spirit of freedom and solidarity” while emphasizing Korea’s role in addressing challenges as a key member of the world community.
In the 11-minute speech on finding solutions during a transitional period, the president mentioned “freedom” 21 times and “UN” 20 times, and “international community” 13 times. Just like people of a country unite to protect their freedom in times of crisis, members of the international community must defend their freedom together when it is threatened. Yoon’s address reminds us of the values of freedom and solidarity he repeatedly stressed in his inauguration speech and the Aug. 15 Liberation Day address. He moved on to define the direction of Korea’s diplomacy as “value-based alliance with the free world” in a new global order after World War II.
At the end of his speech, Yoon thanked the UN for accomplishing its first mission of defending liberty by sending forces to the Korean War after recognizing South Korea as the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula. He promised to do its fair share in protecting — and expanding — freedom in the world and promoting peace and prosperity together with the UN on such fields as a global battle against pandemics, climate change and digital government.
But Yoon did not mention North Korea in the speech. That could reflect his strategic consideration before an imminent nuclear test by North Korea — and after his earlier proposal of an “audacious plan” to help the North. Referring to the threats by China, Russia and North Korea, Yoon indirectly expressed concerns about an attempt to change the status quo by force — specifically “through nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction” and a “collective abuse of human rights” — to endanger freedom and the peace of the world. The texture of his speech was quite different from that of earlier UN speeches by his predecessors focused on North Korea.
A speech at the UN presents visions and the philosophy of leaders of member countries. As Yoon made it clear in his address, South Korea as we know it today cannot exist if the international community had not extended its helping hand in the spirit of solidarity to fight the Communist aggression 72 years ago. So far, South Korea’s diplomacy has been obsessed with North Korean issues. As John Bolton, a former U.S. National Security Advisor, advised earlier, it is important for Seoul to see the bigger picture as a global power.
If South Korea can play a part befitting its heightened international stature, it can gather more international support.
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