South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was greeted by Britain’s King Charles III and a military honor guard on Tuesday at the start of a state visit aimed at strengthening trade and defense ties between the two countries.
The U.K. government hopes the Korean leader’s formal three-day visit will help cement an “Indo-Pacific tilt” in its foreign and trade policy.
The king and Queen Camilla greeted Yoon and first lady Kim Keon-hee at Horse Guards Parade, a military parade ground in central London. Heir to the throne Prince William and government ministers also attended the welcome ceremony, where the king and president inspected rows of soldiers from the Scots Guards in grey tunics and bearskin hats.
The visiting couple traveled by horse-drawn coach down an avenue lined with British and Korean flags to Buckingham Palace. The king is due to host a state banquet for the guests at the palace on Tuesday evening.
Yoon also is scheduled to address Parliament and to hold talks Wednesday with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak focused on trade, technology, and defense. A defense agreement will see the two countries’ navies work together to curb smuggling and to 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 to receive technological assistance in its efforts from Russia.
U.K. and Korean officials also will 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 launched trade talks with several countries since leaving the EU in 2020, though it has finalized deals only with Australia and New Zealand. The U.K. also has 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.”