By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL, Sept 23 (Reuters) – A series of gaffes and controversies has overshadowed South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s first major overseas tour, sinking his approval ratings and drawing sharp criticism from some lawmakers even within his own party .
This week, Yun visited London for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and then New York on his first trip to the US to attend the UN General Assembly, before arriving in Canada on Thursday.
In the highest-profile controversy, Yun was caught cursing into a hot microphone as he left an event in New York on Wednesday after a brief chat with US President Joe Biden.
“What a shame… if these bastards refuse to approve it in parliament,” Yun told Foreign Minister Park Jin in a video broadcast by South Korean broadcasters that went viral on social media.
Opposition lawmakers accused Yoon of insulting Biden and dishonoring South Korea, as media initially reported that Yoon said Biden would be embarrassed if the US Congress did not pass a bill on funding a global initiative.
His press secretary, Kim Eun-hye, dismissed the charge, saying Yoon was referring to the South Korean parliament without mentioning Biden.
Reuters could not independently verify exactly what Yoon said.
Yun’s crude comments drew criticism from some within his own party, with its leader calling it “very regrettable”.
Officials hoped the trip would be an opportunity to show Yun’s vision of what they called a “global hub state,” preventing North Korea’s weapons tests and addressing other pressing issues, including U.S. subsidies for electric vehicles.
Opposition MPs also accused Yun of “degrading national prestige” by failing to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth on his first day in London, which his office blamed on the heavy traffic. Traffic was tightly controlled in London as mourners queued for miles to see the Queen’s coffin and some high-profile guests, including French President Emmanuel Macron, got there on foot.
They also criticized Yun for failing to hold proper summits with Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, describing his trip as a “diplomatic disaster.”
Yun and Biden had scheduled informal talks in New York, but ended up talking for only 48 seconds at the Global Fund. Yoon’s office said it was a “Plan B” because of changes to Biden’s schedule and said they also met in London when Yoon raised the issue of EV subsidies.
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” over the timing of the announcement of the talks and Tokyo appeared “cautious” as both sides explore ways to improve strained relations.
Diplomatic wrangling could make it harder for Yun to win the support of the opposition, which holds a majority in parliament, to pass legislation or boost his policies and
they helped reduce the voter honeymoon after his victory in the May election. Yoon’s approval ratings fell to 28 percent in a Gallup poll released Friday from 33 percent last week. (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast)