Following South Korea’ shocking decision to leave the D12, a South Korean source at the Foreign Ministry gives a detailed account of the events that lead to the ultimate breakdown of relations and departure of South Korea from the organization.
Yesterday saw the decision by South Korea to exit the D12, a move which is a significant knock to the recently formed alliance. This unexpected shakeup puts the future of the body and calls the course greater geopolitics within the region into question. In order to understand the rationale and timeline of South Korean withdrawal, the Telegraph reached out to our sources within South Korea. We were able to secure communication with an anonymous source within the ROK Foreign Ministry who was able to provide us with a first-hand account of what happened behind the scenes in the weeks before the decision became public.
First off, we asked our source when exactly did their country start having doubts over the D12. While they were unable to give an exact date on it, they confirmed that definitely by December rumors and doubts were coming to circle in Seoul and among the senior staff in the Foreign Ministry. South Korea’s position in the D12 apparently became more unclear after former PM lily-irl referred to the situation in Xinjiang as a genocide. This did not please the South Korean government who saw this statement as a sign of drastic action and instead wished to use the D12 for a more slow and long-term solution regarding China.
When asked about the pressure South Korea faced from China our source downplayed the impact of such pressure. We asked if the November visit by top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi to South Korea saw any pressure from China. Our source responded by saying: “There was perhaps slight pressure, but we are not easily intimidated. This was a decision made in the best interests of the Republic of Korea.”
Instead, more of the reasoning behind Korea’s withdrawal was placed on the UK’s government response or rather lack of response to South Korean concerns. The South Korean government reached out to the British government and talked to the Deputy Prime Minister. The South Koreans wished to talk about the agenda for the upcoming D12 summit. During this conversation, the South Korean’s wished to take a long-term approach and they learned from the DPM that they intended to demand immediate access to detention camps in Xinjiang. When they asked the DPM what action would be taken if China denied such access as they presumably would the DPM did not have a clear answer. This seems to be more complex and nuanced reason than the original government statement regarding South Korea’s withdrawal which was attributed to Parliament ruling the events happening in Xinxiang a genocide.
Ultimately the South Koreans felt that the UK did not understand the need to take a long-term view to deal with China and their wishes felt ignored by the British government. When they told the DPM that China would not grant access to the camps in Xinjiang and this would require an escalation by the D12 the government refused to change course, as our source told us “The DPM did little to convince us to stay.” Faced with a refusal to change course, SK felt they had to leave.
Then they focused on today’s press conference held by the DPM. The South Koreans were taken aback by the comments made by the DPM, with our source saying “the comments were not well received and the implications unfair.” The DPM’s specific comments saying that South Korea’s priorities “The Republic of Korea has felt that their priorities were in conflict with our priority of keeping people safe and preventing future human rights violations” was not well received. The South Koreans felt that the statement which implied South Korea did not place a value on human life misrepresented their position and the UK failed to understand the reality of the threat posed by China to South Korea. While South Korea does not share a direct border with China, the PRC supports North Korea and has pressured South Korea in the past such as when US THAAD defenses were placed in South Korea by using a boycott to put pressure on Korean businesses. They remarked such comments especially in a public statement shocked them.
It is clear there will be much discussion in Seoul both about their departure from the D12 and what they feel as unfair comments about South Korea made by the Deputy Prime Minister. When asked what this meant for the future of UK-SK relations our source did not wish to speculate but told us their government found the UK’s “implications to be unfair and they oversimplified our reasons for leaving.” With South Korea’s withdrawal from the D12 and their offense at the DPM’s comments, it is not an understatement to say that relations between the countries will be strained.
In stark contrast to a few months earlier when Foreign Secretary Seimer landed in Seoul and secured South Korea’s membership in the D12, now the nation has retreated from the D12 and been hurt by the UK. With such an important ally in the Asia-Pacific leaving, the future of the UK’s and the entire West’s approach to combat China is called into question. Furthermore, especially in light of the offense caused by the DPM’s comments on South Korea, strained bilateral relations call into question the future of the UK-SK relationship and any potential for a free trade deal.
Tres Commas is a special correspondent for the Telegraph.