SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Reuters) – Senior diplomats from South Korea, China and Japan agreed on Tuesday that their countries’ leaders would meet at the “earliest appropriate time,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said, after a rare meeting aimed at launching trilateral exchanges.
The three countries agreed to hold a summit every year starting in 2008 to enhance regional cooperation, but this initiative was affected by bilateral differences and the Covid-19 epidemic. The last summit was in 2019.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that specific dates are still under discussion and that the two countries’ foreign ministers will meet “within two months.”
Japanese channel TBS reported that South Korea is hosting trilateral meetings this year and proposed holding a summit in late December.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said the three countries shared the need to resume high-level talks, including summits, “as soon as possible.”
“I think it is very important to discuss the various challenges that the region faces,” she said at a press conference in Tokyo.
The latest meeting is seen as partly aimed at allaying Beijing’s concerns about strengthening cooperation between the two US allies after Seoul and Tokyo agreed this year to end legal, diplomatic and trade disputes over issues dating back to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.
“We unanimously believe that implementing cooperation is in the common interests of the three parties,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday. “We must work together to enhance practical cooperation… and make new contributions to regional peace, stability and prosperity.”
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took steps to repair relations, and in August they held a historic trilateral summit with US President Joe Biden, where the three pledged to strengthen cooperation, including in the field of defense and economic security.
A senior South Korean official said China has been proactive in seeking trilateral cooperation and arranging meetings since bilateral relations were strained over the deployment of the US THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea in 2017.
“I’m sure there must be some discomfort on their part regarding our increasingly close trilateral security partnerships with the United States and Japan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. “There seems to be a view that they need to properly manage bilateral relations with us, seeing as how their responses to THAAD have backfired and stoked anti-China sentiment to dangerous levels.”
Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at Harvard University, said Beijing will likely look to leverage trilateral trade ties to balance a strategy of supporting US friends, enhancing people-to-people exchanges, and enhancing communication and dialogue with Seoul and Tokyo on security and defense issues. The US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
He added that Japan and South Korea have an interest in avoiding conflicts, maintaining a stable security relationship with China, and helping Beijing slow, if not halt, North Korea’s comprehensive nuclear development program.
“These common interests open new horizons for strategic communication, building confidence and taking measures to prevent crises,” Zhao said.
The Chinese Premier traditionally attends the trilateral summits, and South Korea is also demanding a separate visit by President Xi Jinping.
The last meeting included South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Chung Byung-won, Japanese Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takehiro Funakoshi, and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyunhee Shin in Seoul – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) (Additional reporting by Liz Lee in Beijing, Su Hyang Choi in Seoul, and Sakura Murakami and Satoshi Sugiyama in Tokyo – Prepared by Mohammed for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by Gerry Doyle
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”