South Korean President Park Geun-hye is headed to Europe, where she plans to make three stops in the course of one full week: France, the United Kingdom… and Belgium.
This choice of visits reflects the priority given in this emerging industrial and military power to the European Union after their relationship was upgraded to a Strategic Partnership and, perhaps more importantly, the signature of the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement. Consequently, a visit to the European Union headquarters and talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy are an essential part of the menu.
However, some might ask themselves why Park is visiting France and the UK but not Germany. The answer mostly lies in the importance security issues and hard power still have for Seoul: contrary to Berlin, both Paris and London have a big say in global security and politics as nuclear powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council. The continued threat posed by North Korea’s belligerence pushes Seoul into expanding diplomatic ties with friendly and influential nations that could help balance China’s perceived ambivalence towards developments in Pyongyang.
Therefore, while South Korea greatly values its diplomatic and trade relations with Germany, Blue House planners have considered that the extensive celebrations of the 120th anniversary of German-Korean relations, combined with the fact that the German government is undergoing a transitional period before Angela Merkel forges a new ruling coalition, can offset any feeling of being snubbed their German counterparts might have, and have consequently put hard security issues on top of the agenda.