S.Korean president deepens UK ties on second day of state visit

By AFP   November 22, 2023 | 04:51 pm PT
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol committed to deepening ties with Britain on the second day of his state visit on Wednesday, signing a new diplomatic accord with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Members of the Royal Air Force (RAF) welcome South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee, as they arrive at Stansted Airport, near London, Britain, November 20, 2023. Photo by Reuters

Members of the Royal Air Force (RAF) welcome South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon Hee, as they arrive at Stansted Airport, near London, Britain, Nov. 20, 2023. Photo by Reuters

Following the grand royal welcome on Tuesday, Yoon got down to business on Wednesday, holding talks with Sunak as well as opposition leader Keir Starmer, who is tipped to become Britain's next leader at an election expected in 2024.

While meeting Sunak, the two signed a new pact -- the "Downing Street Accord" -- according to a post from Sunak's Downing Street office on X, formerly Twitter.

The agreement "deepens our long-standing relationship" and steps up "cooperation on technology, defense and security," it said.

The two leaders also agreed to start negotiations on a beefed up UK-South Korea free trade deal, according to Downing Street.

Earlier, Yoon addressed a business forum attended by CEOs and other representatives from both countries, which kickstarted talks on the new trade deal.

Yoon has said the visit is "a springboard" for greater cooperation, with South Korea aiming to expand business opportunities and high-tech industry supply chains as well as bolster diplomatic and defense ties.

Addressing British lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday -- the first day of his three-day visit -- he said their bilateral relations "will be reborn as true global strategic partners."

Broaden cooperation

Wednesday's meetings follow the formal royal welcome Yoon and his wife, First Lady Kim Keon Hee, received on their first day, which saw London roll out the red carpet.

King Charles III threw a lavish state banquet at Buckingham Palace -- attended by an array of VIPs, including other U.K. royals and K-pop stars Blackpink -- to end a packed day of pomp-filled ceremony.

Earlier, the first couple of South Korea enjoyed a private lunch at the palace and visited Westminster Abbey, where Charles was formally crowned monarch six months ago.

Yoon is the first foreign leader hosted by Charles since his May coronation, with the visit coming as Britain forges stronger post-Brexit ties with fast-growing economies in the Indo-Pacific region.

The new accord signed Wednesday follows the signing of similar partnerships with Singapore and Japan earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Britain and South Korea are set to broaden cooperation on AI, cybersecurity, nuclear energy and defense, as well as working to tackle North Korea's threat, according to Yoon.

The bid to upgrade their free trade arrangements follow the launch last year of a consultation on an enhanced deal.


The existing accord replicates the European Union's agreement with South Korea, and London is eager to showcase the benefits of having left the bloc by striking FTAs with Indo-Pacific nations.

U.K. Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch launched the talks with her South Korean counterpart at the business forum taking place alongside the state visit.

The two countries are set to announce £21 billion ($26 billion) of investments in green energy and infrastructure projects across the U.K. at the forum, according to her ministry.

Badenoch said an enhanced deal would boost Britain's vital services sector, while also creating "new opportunities" for U.K. exports in the food and luxury goods sectors.

Total trade in goods and services between the U.K. and South Korea was £16.1 billion in the year to the end of June.

Defense cooperation will also be part of the new accord, with both countries pledging to step up joint training and operations "to create the most comprehensive exercise regime between the U.K. and any partner other than the US".

The pact comes as North Korea launched what it claims is a spy satellite, Seoul said Tuesday, in Pyongyang's third attempt this year to get a military eye in the sky.

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