• World
  • royals

Key Moments From King Charles’ State Welcome for South Korea

5 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

King Charles III has welcomed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee to the U.K. to celebrate 140 years of diplomatic relations.

On Nov. 22, joined by The President and First Lady of the Republic of Korea, King Charles awarded BLACKPINK honorary MBEs. "The K-pop band have been awarded the honours in recognition of their role as Advocates for the COP26 Summit in Glasgow," a post from The Royal Family read.

The night before, Charles, 75, rolled out the red carpet to launch 62-year-old Yoon’s three-day visit to the U.K., welcoming as many as 170 international guests to Buckingham Palace for a state banquet. The monarch was joined by his wife, Queen Camilla, son William, Prince of Wales, and daughter-in-law Catherine, Princess of Wales. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty were also in attendance.

The monarch took the opportunity to practice speaking Korean in his opening address to welcome the couple.  

Hallyu (K-pop culture) took center stage in the festivities, with girlband BLACKPINK among the esteemed guests. References to BTS and cult Netflix series Squid Game were scattered throughout Charles’ welcome speech.

"It is probably artistic creativity which has brought about the most dramatic shift in Korea’s place in the British cultural landscape,” the King told attendees. He later added, “Our cultures share a remarkable ability to captivate imaginations across the world, transforming a so-called soft power into a shared superpower.”

Below are the highlights from Charles' speech at the state banquet, which is part of a wider trip to strengthen business and trade ties between the U.K. and South Korea.

Charles spoke in Korean

Addressing the President and First Lady at the start of his speech, Charles said “Yeong-gug-e osin geos-eul hwan-yeonghabnida,” a greeting that translates to: "Welcome to Britain."

Charles last visited South Korea in 1992 with the late Princess Diana, but he remarked that a lot has changed since then, especially in the technology sector. His last meeting with Yoon took place at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral reception for Heads of State and high-profile guests in Sept. At the time, Yoon was criticized for not visiting the monarch while her coffin was lying in state, but he attributed this to traffic congestion.

Charles referenced iconic K-pop figures and media

It will come as a surprise to no one that Charles’ speech recognized the growing popularity of Korean culture around the globe. He touched on Hallyu! The Korean Wave, an exhibition that took place in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum across 2022 and 2023, noting that the Korean language is among the fastest growing language courses at British universities.

“Korea has matched Danny Boyle with Bong Joon-ho, James Bond with Squid Game, and the Beatles’ 'Let It Be' with BTS’ 'Dynamite,'” he said.

South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho has achieved critical acclaim over the years, earning three Academy Awards for the 2019 film Parasite. The film also won best international feature, a prize that is credited to South Korea.

Squid Game, another popular cultural export, was viewed across 142 million households after its Netflix release in Sept. 2021. 

Charles also acknowledged global music sensation BTS, who were lauded by Seoul’s tourism board in 2018 for attracting visitors to South Korea. 

Charles applauds BLACKPINK’s environmentalism

K-pop girl band BLACKPINK were among guests at the banquet when they received a shout out by Charles. The monarch touched on the role South Korea is playing in the global fight against environmental damage. He noted that the Republic has a “firm commitment” to renewable and carbon-free technologies, in keeping with U.K. industrial and policy expertise. 

“It is especially inspiring to see Korea’s younger generation embrace the cause,” Charles said. “I applaud Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé, better known collectively as BLACKPINK, for their role in bringing the message of environmental sustainability to a global audience as Ambassadors for the U.K.’s Presidency of COP 26, and later as advocates for the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.”

He added that he admired the group’s ability to prioritize climate action alongside being “global superstars.” In July, BLACKPINK became the first Korean band to headline a British music festival when they performed at BST Hyde Park, an achievement they replicated at Coachella, when they were the first Asian and all-female band to headline. 

Charles made a Gangnam Style Joke

Reaching back to 2012, Charles joked about the song "Gangnam Style" by Psy, which topped the music charts in more than 30 countries worldwide. “Sadly, when I was in Seoul all those years ago, I am not sure I developed much of what might be called the Gangnam Style!” he said, reflecting on his last visit.

A tribute to poet Yun Dong-ju was made

Charles noted that his late mother was struck by the warmth and beauty of South Korea during her 1999 visit. “Korea’s preservation of its sense of self, amid bewildering change, was perhaps what the poet Yun Dong-ju, who so tragically died in captivity on the very eve of Korea’s liberation, anticipated when he wrote: ‘While the wind keeps blowing, My feet stand upon a rock. While the river keeps flowing, My feet stand upon a hill.’” 

The quote hails from The Wind Blows, by one of Korea’s most beloved poets who was known for his lyric poetry and resistance poems. Yun’s writings reflected on society and ultimately led to imprisonment on charges of independence movement. He died in prison aged 27, leaving behind a collection of 100 poems.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com