South Korea hosts first summit with Pacific islands amid geopolitical rivalry

Photo via REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol is set to initiate the country’s first summit with Pacific island leaders today, as Seoul aims to expand its influence in a region that has become a focal point for intense geopolitical rivalry. President Yoon unveiled his administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy last year, committing to promote a “free, peaceful and prosperous” region based on a rules-based order. This comes amid concerns regarding China’s security goals for the strategic waters and economic influence among the small island nations.

Over the weekend, the South Korean president conducted bilateral discussions with some of the visiting Pacific leaders, including Kiribati President Taneti Maamau and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape. Yoon’s office stated that the president addressed the topics of expanding reciprocal cooperation in development, marine and fisheries, as well as the construction of health infrastructure and response to climate change in bilateral meetings with each of the Pacific islands.

South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy also envisions increased trilateral cooperation with the United States and Australia to address regional challenges such as supply chains, critical minerals, and climate change. However, Andrew Yeo, a Senior Fellow at the US think tank Brookings Institution, pointed out that “South Korea must still move cautiously between the two great power rivals given Seoul’s larger economic and geopolitical stakes in China relative to other US allies.”

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles will also be present at the Korea-Pacific Islands Summit, with his office stating that the summit demonstrates cooperation between the 18 members of the Pacific Island Forum and South Korea for a secure region. Australia and New Zealand are the largest members of the forum, which is a group of mostly small island countries at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change and reliant on aid from development partners. The bloc has adopted a collective approach to dealing with major powers.

Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged increased trade and development assistance in a summit with a dozen Pacific island leaders in Papua New Guinea. Additionally, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a defence agreement with Papua New Guinea following a Pacific summit. Yoon’s office reported that Micronesia was unable to attend the meeting in Seoul due to a typhoon.

World News

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Sara

Sara is a journalist and content writer who specializes in lifestyle, wellness, and travel topics. Sara's journey in journalism began as a copywriter, and over time, her portfolio expanded to include articles and features for some of the nation's top lifestyle publications. Outside the office, she enjoys practising yoga and exploring hidden locations in Bangkok.