Controversy and controversy overshadow South Korea’s Yoon’s trips to the United Nations in London

Korean President Yun Seok-yeol and Foreign Minister Park Jin listen to speeches by leaders during the first day of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York City, US, September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Elfaki

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SEOUL (Reuters) – A series of gaffes and controversy have cast a shadow over South Korean President Yun Suk-yul’s first major foreign tour, driving his ratings down and drawing scathing criticism from some lawmakers even within his own party.

Yoon visited London this week for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and then New York on his first trip to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly, before arriving in Canada on Thursday.

In the most notorious of controversy, Yoon was caught cursing into a hot microphone as he left an event in New York on Wednesday after a brief conversation with US President Joe Biden.

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“What an embarrassment… if these bastards refuse to agree to this in Parliament,” Yoon told Foreign Minister Park Jin in a video broadcast by South Korean radio stations, which went viral on social media.

Opposition lawmakers accused Yoon of insulting Biden and insulting South Korea, with media initially reporting that Yoon said Biden would be embarrassed if the US Congress did not pass a bill related to funding a global initiative.

Press Secretary Kim Eun-hee dismissed the accusation, saying Yoon was referring to the South Korean parliament without mentioning Biden.

Reuters could not independently verify exactly what Yun said.

Yun’s blunt comments drew criticism from some members of his party, with the council leader calling them “extremely unfortunate”.

Officials had hoped the trip would be an opportunity to showcase Yun’s vision of what they described as a “global pivot country,” discouraging North Korea from weapons tests and addressing other pressing issues including US support for electric vehicles.

Opposition MPs also accused Yoon of “insulting national standing” by failing to honor Queen Elizabeth on his first day in London, which his office blamed on traffic congestion. Traffic was tightly controlled in London as mourners lined up for miles to see the Queen’s coffin, and some high-ranking guests including French President Emmanuel Macron arrived there on foot.

They also criticized Yun for failing to hold proper summits with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, calling his trip a “diplomatic disaster.”

Yoon and Biden planned to have informal talks in New York, but they ended up having a 48-second conversation at the Global Fund. Yoon’s office said this was a “Plan B” due to changes to Biden’s schedule, and they said they also met in London when Yoon raised the issue of subsidies for electric vehicles.

Earlier, controversy erupted after Japanese media reported that Kishida had considered canceling a meeting with Yoon.

An official in Yoon’s office said there was a “difference of opinion” about the timing of the talks’ announcement, and Tokyo appeared to be “cautious” as the two sides explored ways to improve strained relations.

Diplomatic disagreements may make it difficult for Yoon to gain the support of the opposition, which has a majority in parliament, to pass legislation or advance his political policy.

He helped cut short his voter’s honeymoon after winning the May election. His approval ratings for Yoon dropped to 28% in a Gallup poll released Friday from 33% last week.

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Reporting from Hyonhee Shin. Edit Lincoln Fest

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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