South Korea's royal lunch at Buckingham Palace coincides with North Korea’s attempt to launch spy satellite

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

A private lunch with the monarch and their consort in the historic surroundings of Buckingham Palace forms a traditional part of each state visit by a foreign power.

But there was a flurry of activity in the Blue Drawing Room when the South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon Hee dined with the King and Queen at the grand royal residence on Tuesday.

The lunch – where guests including the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duchess of Edinburgh and the South Korean delegation dined on chicken – coincided with North Korea launching what it claims to be a spy satellite.

The launch marks the latest demonstration of North Korea’s determination to build a space-based surveillance system during protracted tensions with the United States.

Residents on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa were initially told to take cover before the order was lifted.

A spy satellite is among the key military assets coveted by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who wants to modernise his weapons systems to cope with what he calls escalating US threats.

Among those who joined the President at the Palace were the South Korean director of national security Cho Taeyong, deputy prime minister Choo Kyung-ho and the minister of foreign affairs Park Jin – who no doubt were informed of the developing crisis.

But the lunch continued, with the President moving to the Palace picture gallery afterwards to press ahead with the planned programme.

William and Kate joined the entourage to view an exhibition of Royal Collection artefacts celebrating the UK’s ties with South Korea, where the princess was heard to smile and remark “and karaoke” to Mr Choo and Mr Park.

The 62-year-old President is a known fan of karaoke and in April belted out a verse of one of his favourite songs, American Pie, at a White House dinner at the request of President Joe Biden during a state visit to the US.

William said: “I’ll put it in the diary” as he was shown gifts given to his late grandmother Elizabeth II when she became the first British monarch to make a state visit to Korea in 1999.

They saw a celadon vase which was presented to the late Queen and decorated with chrysanthemums to symbolise virtue, long life and purity.

They heard how Elizabeth II visited the rural village of Hahoe in Andong Province, where she was held in such high esteem that they sent a crate of apples to the royal household for her every year on her birthday.

William and Kate shared a tender moment at the end of the exhibition when the prince placed his hand on his wife’s back.

The prince also pointed out members of the royal family pictured in a photograph with Sir Winston Churchill on the Palace balcony in 1945 to guests.

“That’s VE Day. Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother,” William said.

The images of Sir Winston were included especially for the President who is a huge fan of the wartime politician.

Churchill became prime minister for the second time in October 1951, during the Korean War in which nearly 100,000 British troops fought and more than 1,000 died.

Korea featured in Sir Winston’s publications, including Stemming the Tide (1951-52) – in which he declared: “I have always been anxious to bring the conflict in Korea to an end as speedily as possible.”

Mr Yoon peered closely at letters between Churchill and King George VI and picked up a book on the Second World War which Sir Winston gifted to the then-monarch to examine it.

He is likely to have been thrilled with the official gifts he received from Charles and Camilla – a copy of Sir Winston’s Stemming The Tide book, hand-bound at the Royal Bindery, Windsor Castle, with a bespoke dedication label.

The President’s other gifts included a one-off special bottling of Laphroaig whisky, from a cask that was signed by the King when he visited Laphroaig distillery in 2008.

The Queen gave Mrs Kim a pashmina hand embroidered with the Mugungwha – the national flower of South Korea – and the names of the First Lady’s dogs, created by embroiderers from The Royal School of Needlework.

Mrs Kim has been a vocal critic of dog meat consumption and has adopted a number of stray dogs.

It was reported last week that South Korea aims to ban eating dog meat and put an end to the controversy over the ancient custom amid growing awareness of animal rights.

The President and the First Lady had four dogs – Tori, Narae, Mari and Sunny – and three cats – Akkaengi, Navi and Norangi – when Mr Yoon came to power, but they are now said to have around 11 pets.

Camilla is a known dog lover and her coronation dress featured Royal School of Needlework golden motifs of her own terriers, Beth and Bluebell.

Other gifts from the King and Queen to the couple were a silver-framed signed photograph of Charles and Camilla and a bespoke Royal Scot Crystal whisky decanter and tumbler set, engraved with the King’s cypher, the Presidential Seal, and with the dates of the state visit.