SEOUL – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was overheard insulting American lawmakers, after briefly meeting his United States counterpart Joe Biden to discuss issues including US electric-vehicle (EV) subsidies that South Korea wants to change.
“What an embarrassment for Biden, if these idiots refuse to grant it in Congress,” video broadcast on South Korean television showed Mr Yoon telling Foreign Minister Park Jin in New York.
The comments were caught on a microphone as Mr Yoon and Mr Park were leaving after a brief chat with Mr Biden at a Global Fund event. The two leaders had been scheduled to hold formal discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week, and instead had a chat at the event for the charity that raises money to fight infectious diseases.
A senior official from the South Korean presidential office told reporters in New York that Mr Yoon’s comments were unofficial and unverified. The official said it was inappropriate to view such private remarks as a reflection of the administration’s diplomatic achievements.
The White House said in a statement that Mr Biden and Mr Yoon discussed cooperation on the security threat posed by North Korea as part of a “broad range of priority issues including supply chain resilience, critical technologies, economic and energy security, global health and climate change”.
Mr Yoon has come under pressure at home to remedy provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act signed last month by Mr Biden, which includes tax credits of as much as US$7,500 (S$10,600) for purchases of EVs made in North America. That could disadvantage major South Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia, which do not yet have operational EV plants in the US.
The off-the-cuff comments from Mr Yoon were met with derision from opposition South Korean lawmakers, who said they tarnished the country’s image.
The President has already faced criticism for shunning an in-person meeting with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she visited South Korea last month, when he was on vacation.
The lawmakers said he missed a chance to lobby on his country’s behalf over the legislation.