Yoon’s decision sent South Korea’s presidential office scrambling to downplay accusations that he shunned a meeting with Pelosi in a bid to placate China, as South Korea navigates the rising competition between its largest trading partner and the United States, its biggest security ally.
The political novice, who won the presidency with the narrowest margin ever in South Korea, faces plummeting approval ratings less than three months after taking office. He has vowed to make his country a “global pivotal state” and a geopolitical force.
But his glaring absence on the global stage fired up critics, who accused the conservative South Korean president of deliberately shunning Pelosi out of concerns about retaliation from Beijing. Her controversial visit to Taiwan escalated tensions between the self-governing island and Beijing.
Yoon’s office said he scrapped his summer travel plans and opted for a Seoul staycation to plan for future political activities and rest at home.
Yoon’s spokesman, Choi Young-bum, said the president’s summer holiday was planned ahead of Pelosi’s Asia trip and that Yoon attended the theater performance before Pelosi’s plane arrived. According to Choi, Yoon said he was not available to meet Pelosi, who flew into South Korea that evening.
“I have received questions about whether the president avoided meeting with the House speaker because he was wary of China,” Choi said. “All these things are decided based on a thorough consideration of our country’s national interest.”
He also dismissed a reporter’s question suggesting that Yoon’s unavailability signaled a shift in Seoul’s alignment amid the U.S.-China rivalry, calling the question an “exaggeration.”