Yoon’s state visit a ‘crowning moment’ in thriving Korea-U.K. ties Britain’s King Charles III, second from left, is greeted by the Korean community in front of New Malden Methodist Church in England on Nov. 8, in a trip to London’s Koreatown ahead of President Yoon Suk Yeol’s state visit this week. [AP/YONHAP] Korean football players, including Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min, shining in the Premier League. British YouTubers going viral enjoying Korean food through mukbang, strengthening cultural affinity between the two countries. K-pop global stars Blackpink taking part in Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee celebration at the British Embassy in Seoul last year. Vibrant cultural and youth exchanges between Korea and Britain have reached unprecedented levels, whether in sports, music or culinary delights. Likewise, those ties have been strengthened by growing political, security and economic cooperation between the two countries over the decades. This week, President Yoon Suk Yeol will become Britain’s first state guest since the coronation of King Charles III in May, an indicator of Korea’s changing global status. The Korean leader being chosen as the king’s state guest is a testament to strengthening of a diplomatic relationship that goes back to the final years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), before the birth of the modern Republic of Korea. The two countries mark 140 years of diplomatic relations this year. Britain became the second Western power to enter into diplomatic ties with Korea when the two countries signed the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation on Nov. 26, 1883. “President Yoon being the first foreign head of state invited for a state visit by the King since his coronation signifies the deep respect and close friendship that exists between our two countries,” British Ambassador to South Korea Colin Crooks told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Tuesday, ahead of heading to London to prepare for the state visit. “It also coincides to the week with the 140th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties.” The visit also falls in the same year as the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the 1950-53 Korean War, during which Britain sent some 80,000 troops, the second largest contingent of foreign troops in defense of South Korea’s freedom. “The fact that Korea is the first international partner to be invited on a state visit since the king’s coronation is also a forward-looking gesture — a representation of the U.K.’s intent to build on our history in order to strengthen and deepen ties with Korea for the future,” Crooks said. “It is deeply symbolic, and it leaves me feeling optimistic about the trajectory of our bilateral relationship.” President Yoon and first lady Kim Keon Hee will arrive in London on Monday for a four-day visit upon the invitation of King Charles as the first leg of a Europe tour, which will later take him to France to promote Busan’s World Expo 2030 bid. British Ambassador to South Korea Colin Crooks speaks in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at the diplomatic residence in central Seoul earlier this year. [PARK SANG-MOON] Pomp and ceremony Yoon’s London trip will mark the first state visit by a Korean leader in a decade. Former President Roh Moo-hyun became the first Korean leader to make a state visit to Britain in 2004, and former President Park Geun-hye the second in 2013. “State visits to the U.K. are special because of the tradition and history that permeates the ceremonial aspects of the visiting head of state’s program,” Crooks said. On Tuesday, Yoon and Kim will be greeted by Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales at their hotel and they will travel together to the Horse Guards Parade in London for a welcome ceremony. King Charles and Queen Camilla will formally welcome Yoon and Kim at the Royal Pavilion on Horse Guards Parade, and an honor guard will give a royal salute. The Korean presidential couple will join the king and queen and the prince and princess of Wales in a carriage procession along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The king will host them for a private lunch at the palace and later invite Yoon and Kim to view a special exhibition in the Picture Gallery of items from the Royal Collection relating to Korea. Yoon and Kim will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Korean War Memorial to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and visit Westminster Abbey to lay a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. Later, Yoon will visit the Palace of Westminster, where he will deliver an address in the Royal Gallery to members of both houses of British Parliament. “This is an honor bestowed only on state visitors and reflects the closeness of U.K.-Korea political ties,” Crooks said regarding the parliamentary speech. During her state visit, then-President Park in 2014 gave an English-language address to the British Parliament, calling on the two countries to develop new engines for economic growth. In the evening, presidential couple will also attend a state banquet at the palace’s ballroom, which will be “attended by the most prominent and prestigious members of the U.K.-Korean community,” according to Crooks. On Wednesday, Yoon will attend the “Shaping the Future” UK-Korea Business Forum with some 200 CEOs and business representatives from both countries to discuss working together to create business opportunities. Yoon will later hold a bilateral summit with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. On Friday, Yoon will visit the Churchill War Rooms, where former Prime Minister Winston Churchill commanded World War II. The king will also bid farewell to the presidential couple at Buckingham Palace, ending the state visit. Britain traditionally invites only two foreign leaders for state visits each year — one in the first half and the other in the second half. King Charles hosted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa as the first state guest of his reign in November 2022, before his coronation ceremony on May 6. President Yoon and King Charles previously met at the reception at Buckingham Palace in London in September 2022, ahead of the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II. Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, shakes hands with King Charles III at a reception at Buckingham Palace in London on Sept. 18, 2022, ahead of the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II. [YONHAP] ‘Ambitious and comprehensive’ deals Yoon’s state visit will be an opportunity for a set of comprehensive agreements and deals to be sealed between the two countries. During this visit, the two sides are also set to adopt a Korea-UK Accord, meant to detail the future direction of bilateral cooperation, as a testament to the upgraded relations. “You can expect to see an ambitious and comprehensive suite of new partnerships, agreements and initiatives,” Crooks said, when asked about key outcomes expected from the upcoming trip. “I wouldn’t want to preempt the announcements, but I can tell you that they will serve to upgrade our bilateral relationship overall and to supercharge our cooperation in defense and security; energy and net zero; development; science and technology; supply chains and economic security; and trade and investment.” Yoon will also discuss ways to improve the Korea-U.K. FTA and “lay a foundation for Korean companies to enter the British market with more ease” following Brexit, Choi Sang-mok, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, said in a press briefing ahead of the state visit. In anticipation of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union in early 2020, Korea and Britain quickly drew up a free-trade agreement (FTA) that came into effect at the beginning of 2021. The two sides began negotiations to enhance the existing FTA last year. “Although it has been several years since the Korea-U.K. FTA came into effect, the international economic and security landscape is changing rapidly in the past four to five years, so it is expected that new negotiations to upgrade the structure of the Korea-U.K. FTA will be made possible,” a senior presidential official said ahead of the state visit. “In this way, the two countries will create a new win-win relationship in trade and investment.” The visit will be an opportunity to strengthen high-tech industry supply chain and science and technology cooperation, including in the AI, digital, advanced bio, quantum technology and space sectors. They also will focus on carbon-free energy cooperation, as Britain is focused on nuclear power, hydrogen and offshore wind power. Britain is eager to cooperate with Korea on nuclear power generation, cybersecurity cooperation and defense, the presidential official said. Annual trade between Britain and Korea is worth 18 billion pounds ($21.9 billion), according to British government. The top exports from Korea to Britain were cars, ships, refined oil, mechanical power generators and electrical goods. British imports to Korea were cars, crude oil, mechanical power generators, medicinal and pharmaceutical products and clothing. The two sides will further strengthen ties with major intelligence allies in the Asia-Pacific region, and the presidential official said Britain is “one of the important strategic areas in Europe.” Britain is a part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance also comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. “This state visit is not only symbolically significant, but will bring bilateral cooperation to an even higher level of intensity in practical terms, delivering great results for our mutual prosperity and security,” Crooks said. The British ambassador, who is completely fluent in Korean, is a testament to such bonds between the two countries, serving as a secretary at the British Embassy in Seoul in the 1990s before returning as top diplomat to South Korea last year. His previous post was as British ambassador to North Korea. Britain maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea and is one of the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council. Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shake hands during their bilateral summit at the G7 gathering in Hiroshima, Japan, on May 20. [PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE] Crowning moment In his first King’s Speech to British parliament since his coronation, King Charles said earlier this month he looked forward to welcoming the Korean presidential couple for a state visit. He added that his government will also “seek to make long-term decisions in the interests of future generations.” The king also visited New Malden, London’s Koreatown, and chatted with members of the Korean community about topics ranging from K-pop to a North Korean defector’s escape story. He tasted Korean desserts such as bingsoo and was presented with kimchi. New Malden in the southwest London Borough of Kingston is home to Europe’s largest population of Koreans. Some 20,000 Koreans live in the area, which grew into London’s hub for the Korean diaspora in the 1970s after the South Korean ambassador’s residence and Samsung’s European headquarters moved nearby. Earlier this year, the Royal Borough of Kingston became the first place in Europe to declare Nov. 22 as “Kimchi Day.” Hyundai Motor Group Chair Euisun Chung, right, receives the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire presented by British Ambassador to Korea Colin Crooks on Tuesday at the embassy in central Seoul. [HYUNDAI MOTOR GROUP] On Tuesday, Crooks awarded Hyundai Motor Group Executive Chair Euisun Chung the honor of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for strengthening economic and cultural ties between Korea and Britain. Chung became the first Korean to receive this honor, given to those who have contributed to the arts, culture and science since King Charles was crowned. “The 140th anniversary is a chance to reflect on our remarkable joint history, which has been punctuated by significant moments, such as the 80,000 British troops who fought bravely in the Korean War,” Crooks said. Over 1,000 British troops “made the ultimate sacrifice” and were killed during the war. Crooks recollected the historic state visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Korea in 1999, “where she spent a fondly-remembered birthday in Andong.” In April 1999, Queen Elizabeth II visited Korea during the Kim Dae-jung administration. She spent her 73rd birthday in Andong, North Gyeongsang, enjoying a traditional Korean meal and exploring Hahoe Village and Bongjeong Temple. “We’ve celebrated this anniversary throughout the year, with cultural exhibitions, armistice commemorations and a range of policy events, but the state visit is of course the crowning moment,” Crooks said. “As for our future ties, I’m optimistic that, through this state visit, the ties between the U.K. and Korea, our businesses and our people will become even closer,” Crooks said. “I’d like to see our businesses build on the more than £18 billion of trade we already do and for our governments to work together as like-minded partners to ensure the long-term security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region. I hope also that the growing interest and enthusiasm of British people for Korean culture and language, and of Koreans’ interest in the U.K., will continue to go from strength to strength.” BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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