“It would be hard to convince both Washington and our people that he is simply not seeing Pelosi as it overlapped with his holiday schedule,” Yoon Young-chan added. The president’s office said he was watching a play the night Pelosi arrived.
Since winning a presidential election in March decided by the closest margin in the country’s history, Yoon has seen his support erode. Several major decisions have proved unpopular and touched off waves of criticism, including relocating the presidential office, announcing plans to shut the Gender Equality Ministry, giving his government more power over police and lowering the age children begin school by a year.
Yoon’s support rate hit 28.9% in a survey taken less than a week ago by the Korea Society Opinion Institute, with the approval numbers of his administration ranking among the lowest for any president since South Korea became a full democracy in 1987. Although there is ample time to reverse course in his single, five-year term that started in May, the former prosecutor’s early stumbles have raised questions about whether he can make the transition to running a government.
Yoon has won praise from the Biden administration for bringing changes to South Korea’s security posture. That has helped the U.S. as it looks to build alliances among partners for a united front against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, push back against an assertive China and try to end North Korea’s atomic ambitions.
His government has also raised South Korea’s stature in international groupings such as NATO, and brought back joint military exercises with the U.S. that had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump to facilitate his nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
But Yoon’s government has waffled on joining the Biden administration’s proposed groupings such as the so-called Chip 4 alliance to safeguard the supply of semiconductors, which are vital for modern technologies and future ones like artificial intelligence. South Korean chipmakers such as SK Hynix Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. could be hamstrung by moves that cause a backlash from China, where the companies have production bases for memory chips.
While having neither Yoon or his foreign minister meet Pelosi may be seen as a “diplomatic discourtesy,” it won’t cause any major damage to the alliance between South Korea and the U.S., according to Yang Seung-ham, a professor emeritus of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“At a time when Pelosi has created controversy in Taiwan, the presidential office may have wanted to distance itself from any political conflict,” Yang said. “She is still the No. 3 in the U.S., after all, and it wouldn’t have hurt Yoon to greet her in person.”©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.