South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol received a warm welcome from Britain’s King Charles III and a military honor guard on Tuesday as his state visit began. The visit aims to strengthen trade and defense ties between the two countries.
The U.K. government is hopeful that the Korean leader’s formal three-day visit will help solidify an “Indo-Pacific tilt” in its foreign and trade policy.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla greeted Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee at Horse Guards Parade in central London. Heir to the throne Prince William and government ministers also attended the welcome ceremony, during which the king and president inspected rows of soldiers from the Scots Guards in grey tunics and bearskin hats.
Following the welcome ceremony, the visiting couple traveled by horse-drawn coach down an avenue lined with British and Korean flags to Buckingham Palace. The king is scheduled to host a state banquet for the guests at the palace on Tuesday evening.
Yoon is also set to address Parliament and hold talks with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, focusing on trade, technology, and defense. A defense agreement will see the two countries’ navies work together to curb smuggling and enforce U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions.
While Yoon was in London, North Korea launched a rocket in what appeared to be its third attempt to place a military spy satellite into orbit. Pyongyang is determined to build a space-based surveillance system and has sought technological assistance from Russia in its efforts.
U.K. and Korean officials will also officially launch talks on an “upgraded” free trade agreement to replace their current deal, which largely replicates the arrangements the U.K. had before it left the European Union.
Britain has initiated trade talks with several countries since leaving the EU in 2020, with finalized deals only with Australia and New Zealand. The U.K. has also joined the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, an Asia-Pacific trade bloc that includes Japan and 10 other nations.
Sunak and Yoon are expected to sign an agreement covering cooperation in defense and technology, including artificial intelligence. Britain hosted the first international AI Safety Summit this month, and South Korea intends to hold a follow-up event next year.
Britain also plans to invest in South Korean semiconductor manufacturing as part of international efforts to diversify the supply of the key computer components. Many of the advanced chips are produced in Taiwan, and the coronavirus pandemic and an increasingly assertive China have heightened concerns about future supply.
Sunak said agreements made during Yoon’s visit would “drive investment, boost trade and build a friendship that not only supports global stability, but protects our interests and lasts the test of time.”