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S. Korea, UK to establish foreign, defense ministerial dialogue, fight cyber threats

Nov. 23, 2023 - 11:24 By Son Ji-hyoung

President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sign Downing Street Accord at 10 Downing Street, a UK Prime Minister's office, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea and the United Kingdom on Wednesday agreed to establish a "two plus two" ministerial dialogue where foreign and defense ministers would hold regular bilateral meetings, amid signs of a destabilizing international order that the countries seek to jointly defend.

The UK now becomes the third country to establish such ministerial dialogue with Korea, following the United States and Australia, according to Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office.

The two countries also pledged to jointly fight cybersecurity threats and intensify dialogue and research cooperation in the defense industry. They agreed to explore ways to conduct joint sanctions enforcement maritime patrols against North Korea and tackle maritime threats in the Indo-Pacific region.

These were part of the Downing Street Accord, a new bilateral blueprint signed by President Yoon Suk Yeol and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the third day of Yoon's state visit to London.

The signing ceremony, which upgraded their ties to a "global strategic partnership" from a "broad and creative partnership," took place at 10 Downing Street, the official residence and office of the prime minister, following a summit there.

"Together, (South Korea and the UK) not only lead the partnership in the economy but also promote freedom, peace and prosperity around the world," Yoon said in opening remarks during the summit.

The declaration for South Korea and the UK to embark on a new chapter -- on the foundation of 140 years of diplomatic ties -- is aimed at "strengthening an open and resilient international order," read the Downing Street Accord.

President Yoon Suk Yeol poses for a photo during his visit to 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Under the accord, Seoul and London will consult each other on regional and global security issues through meetings of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries. They will develop a comprehensive institutional framework for deeper defense cooperation with a memorandum of understanding.

South Korea and the UK will also work to jointly tackle situations in the Indo-Pacific region by conducting joint patrols to deter smuggling vessels from reaching North Korea, sharing maritime security-related information and working together in bilateral military exercises. They will also explore possibilities of South Korea taking part in the UK’s Maritime Domain Awareness Program to deter Indo-Pacific maritime threats.

On the cybersecurity front, a strategic cyber partnership comprising three pillars was signed Wednesday. Under the partnership, the two countries will develop ties between the government, private sector and academia to improve cyber resilience and develop core technologies to protect national infrastructure.

To achieve this, the two countries will work to enroll South Korean companies in the UK National Cyber Security Center’s "Industry 100" program.

Seoul and London will also join forces to disrupt and deter malicious cyber capabilities and activities that contribute to North Korea's development of weapons of mass destruction and other illicit revenue-generating operations.

The partnership "opens the way for South Korea's cybersecurity cooperation with 'Five Eyes' member countries," Kim of the NSO said, referring to an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. South Korea in April announced a bilateral cybersecurity framework with the US.

The document also enshrines the need for the two countries to cooperate as close partners in multilateral forums, including the Group of 20 and the United Nations Security Council, given South Korea's non-permanent member status from 2024 to 2025. The partnership will also be strengthened through the Group of Seven, based on Seoul's attendance and engagement as an observer four times so far.

"As we reach this new high point in our bilateral relations, both nations have already begun to adapt by rethinking our approach to security and prosperity and renewing and reimagining our bilateral and multilateral relations with others," the document read.

President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shake hands during the summit at 10 Downing Street, a UK Prime Minister's office, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

During the summit, Yoon and Sunak condemned North Korea's launch of a spy satellite on Wednesday, calling it a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

They also condemned arms transfers and military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, while calling on Russia to immediately cease its targeted attacks on Ukrainian grain supplies.

They pledged to support Ukraine in its efforts to recover and rebuild. Moreover, the two leaders remained committed to a two-state solution to address humanitarian crises in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, while denouncing terrorist attacks in Israel earlier in October.

"The international order that we have sought to defend over the last 70 years is under threat," read the accord.

"Yet we are confident that nations like ours are particularly well-placed to adapt to these changes and to protect and promote the interests of our citizens as well as our shared vision of an open and stable international order."

With the accord, Seoul and London also agreed to renegotiate their free trade pact in effect since 2021, and to boost cooperation in the sectors of semiconductors, artificial intelligence, space, nuclear energy and clean energy, among others.

President Yoon Suk Yeol claps hands during the banquet given by Michael Mainelli, lord mayor of the City of London on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Yoon began his third day of the state visit with a business forum in London. He went on to attend a ceremony where King Charles III recognized K-pop girl group Blackpink as an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire. After the summit with Sunak, Yoon attended a banquet hosted by Michael Mainelli, lord mayor of the City of London.

Yoon was to depart London and fly to Paris on Thursday.