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Cornwall's Impact on Korea's Global Diplomacy

Jae Yoon Mary Noh, G7 Research Group
June 13, 2021

After the cancellation of the regular 2020 summit under the U.S. presidency rendered Korea's invitation to the G7 void, Korea was invited to the G7 summit in 2021 along with Australia, India and South Africa by the United Kingdom's Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Though this invitation did not represent a continuation of US president Donald Trump's 2020 proposal to expand the G7, Korea nonetheless contentedly received the invitation as a signal of its rising prominence in global leadership and an opportunity to further its diplomacy and status. Blue House spokesperson Min-seok Kang confirmed that "such repeated calls for Korea to join the summit are meaningful as a confirmation of its international stature." As such, being an idle bystander in Cornwall was not an option.

Korean president Moon Jae-in arrived in Cornwall on June 12 with certain assets and limitations, with the latter in danger of eclipsing the former. First, Korea has enjoyed the praise and diplomactic boost that rose out of its successful pandemic responses, such as aggressive contact tracing, with President Moon employing extensive phone-call diplomacy. He has also presented a "Green New Deal" and committed the country to net zero emissions by 2050. Predictably, Korea has used these cards to share its pandemic experiences and take a more active role in formulating joint responses to COVID-19 and climate change. However, both Korean and international media reported that the summit's discussions on countering China's global influence would limit Korea's summit diplomacy in this regard. Korea has been receiving domestic pressure to take a tougher stance on China, but has been careful not to antagonize its important neighbouring trading partner while demonstrating its continuing commitment to its longtime ally, the United States. China has already expressed major disappointment over the Korea-United States joint statement on the Taiwan Straits from May. While this precarious situation weighed on the mind of Korean officials, their performance in the Cornwall Summit nevertheless suggests that they have manoeuvred their position effectively.

Korea has been working extensively on the sidelines to form lasting bilateral bonds with G7 members and invitees. President Moon and German chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to explore ways to expand vaccine supply and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every country. Noting their 60th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties, Korea and Australia agreed to broaden economic cooperation, particularly on hydrogen use and low-carbon technologies. Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison also accepted President Moon's request for Australia to support Korea's efforts for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Korea has also made productive progress with first-time meetings with those G7 leaders who have been elected in the past year. President Moon conducted talks with the European Union presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen on cooperating in environment and global leadership in achieving carbon neutrality. He also used this discussion to request a stable supply of COVID-19 vaccines produced by European companies. President Moon briefly exchanged greetings with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in the first face-to-face contact since Prime Minister Suga's election last year. However, this contact did not culminate to anything significant beyond greetings and Korea did not participate in a meeting with Japan and United States as some onlookers had hoped. 

At the multilateral level, Korea vowed to provide $100 million in grants to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment this year and offer cash and materials worth $100 million next year.

Korea's performance in Cornwall suggests that President Moon Jae-In and his team have aptly transformed his trademark phone-call diplomacy into informal bilateral diplomacy at the summit. Korea is using the 2021 Cornwall Summit not merely as an indicator of its global status but as a base to further its ambitious global diplomacy goals.

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