The United Kingdom courts Korea Ramon Pacheco Pardo The author is a professor of international relations at King’s College London and KF-VUB Korea Chair at Brussels School of Governance, Vrije Universiteit Brussel. On Nov. 21, Britain’s FCDO kindly invited me to attend President Yoon Suk Yeol’s address to both houses of the British Parliament, delivered at the grandiose Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. In attendance were the speakers of both houses of Parliament, former prime ministers, dozens of members of both houses and other dignitaries. This was only the second such address to both houses of parliament this year, following from that by Ukraine’s president and European figure Volodymir Zelensky. The speech was part of Yoon’s state visit to Britain, the first by a foreign leader since the coronation of King Charles III. During Yoon’s visit, Britain made sure to court Korea as best as it knows: Yoon had meetings with the Royal Family, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the Lord Mayor of London and multiple ministers and business leaders. Plus, the British Army band played “Gangnam Style” (2012) and “Ddu-du Ddu-du” (2018) during the traditional Changing of the Guard in front of surprised and delighted tourists. Seemingly, everyone who matters in London was ready to welcome Korea for this visit. Why did Britain would go to such lengths to woo Yoon and his delegation of ministers, businesspeople and scientific and cultural figures? In short, because the Korea of today sits high up in the global geopolitical and geoeconomic league. From the perspective of Britain, Korea is a privileged partner. This same feeling has become common across the rest of Europe. The Downing Street Accord signed by Seoul and London on Wednesday attests to this. The accord effectively makes Korea a top-level partner for Britain in areas ranging from Indo-Pacific security to the digital transition to green growth. In the same way that the joint statement signed last May makes Seoul a top-level partner for the European Union, different European countries are in a race of their own to work together with Korean diplomats, attract investment from chaebol and other firms, partner with universities and research centers in Korea or cooperate with the Korean Armed Forces. U.S.-China competition, the Xi Jinping government’s growing assertiveness and economic nationalism, the Donald Trump presidency, Beijing’s opacity and behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are among the key factors underpinning Europe’s interest in cooperation with Korea. Since there are many reasons why Europe wants to boost ties with the country, we can confidently predict that this push for greater cooperation will continue for years to come. Korea’s position as a privileged partner for Britain and other European actors has many upsides for Seoul. It makes it easier for the Yoon government to claim that Seoul is indeed a global player. Korea is consulted and its position taken into consideration on foreign policy matters from responses to China’s behaviour in the South China Sea to the war between Israel and Hamas. Investment by Korean firms is welcomed with open arms. And the National Intelligence Service can access and exchange information that helps the country protect itself against foreign threats. All of this means that Korea cannot continue to present itself as powerless actor anymore. Its partners do not see it this way. Its economic, technological, diplomatic and military clout cannot be hidden or kept at home any longer. For Seoul, this will mean taking tough decisions and, in some cases, having to skilfully manage relations with countries that won’t be happy with them, be it China, Russia or others that may feel alienated and who would prefer a quiet, less active Korea. Yet, this is a price worth paying. As Charles put it during Yoon’s visit, ‘Koreans have created a miracle’. The next step is using this miracle as the basis for Korea to get involved in shaping global affairs.

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