S Korea, Japan, China FMs to discuss trilateral summit, N Korea

The meeting offers a crucial opportunity for China to assess the policy stances of Seoul and Tokyo, says an expert.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
2023.11.23
Seoul, South Korea
S Korea, Japan, China FMs to discuss trilateral summit, N Korea Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin interact at the ASEAN Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia August 4, 2022.
Reuters

South Korea, Japan, and China are set to convene their first foreign ministers’ meeting in four years in the South Korean port city of Busan on Sunday, where the major geopolitical players in Asia will address a comprehensive array of topics, including both economic and security issues.

The meeting on Nov. 26, will be hosted by South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin and see participation of his Japanese and Chinese counterparts, Yoko Kamikawa and Wang Yi, the South’s foreign ministry said on Friday.

The ministers are set to “extensively exchange opinions on various topics, including preparations for the 9th Trilateral Summit and the overall direction of trilateral cooperation development, as well as regional and international circumstances,” the ministry added without elaborating further. 

Annual meetings of foreign ministers from the three countries started in 2007 on South Korea’s Jeju Island, and persisted until their 9th gathering in Beijing in August 2019. Since then, the meetings have been on hold, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The primary focus of the upcoming talks revolves around whether all three parties can agree on a date for the trilateral summit. The last trilateral summit took place in 2019 in Chengdu, China.

Whether China would want to continue the trilateral summit platform has long been a question. As China emerges as a global power, its focus within the region, in a relative sense, has somewhat lessened. The increasing collaboration of South Korea and Japan under the trilateral framework with the U.S. also has been a source of discomfort for China.

In fact, with South Korea’s new conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration, Seoul has been more vocal about criticizing China on the international stage – with concerns ranging from Beijing’s decision to repatriate North Korean defectors back to the Kim Jong Un regime to China’s coercive behavior towards the self-governed island of Taiwan.

However, with South Korea and Japan increasingly aligning with the U.S., China could see the revival of the trilateral summit, which usually puts heavy emphasis on economic cooperation, as a strategic move to regain its influence in the region.

The combined economic weight of the three countries accounts for more than 20% of the global economy, and reaches around 80% in the ASEAN+3 region, according to data from South Korea’s finance ministry.

Another key point of interest is whether China will agree to issue criticism regarding North Korea’s illegal satellite launch late Tuesday. The trilateral foreign ministers’ meetings have usually included a consensus on security issues in the Korean peninsula. However, it is uncertain whether Beijing would consent to condemn the North’s latest actions.

Rocket technology can be used for both launching satellites and missiles. For that reason, the U.N. bans North Korea from launching a ballistic rocket, even if it claims to be a satellite launch.

Following the launch, North Korean leader  Kim Jong Un, stressed that he was dedicated to implementing countermeasures against the “dangerous and aggressive” moves of the hostile forces – an apparent reference to the U.S. and its regional allies.

“The possession of a reconnaissance satellite is a full-fledged exercise of the right to self-defense. The DPRK armed forces can neither concede even a bit nor stop, even a moment,” Kim said, referring to North Korea’s formal name, as cited by the state-run Korean Central News Agency Friday.

Unlike previous occasions, when China’s foreign ministry often expressed its regrets, Beijing refrained from issuing a public criticism of North Korea’s latest launch, as the strategic value of Pyongyang has been raised due to intensifying U.S.-China relations.

“This upcoming foreign ministers’ meeting is particularly significant as it takes place amidst the strategic competition between the U.S. and China,” said Wang Son-taek, director of the Global Policy Center at the Han Pyeong Peace Institute, adding that it appears to be an opportunity for China to step in and manage the deteriorating bilateral relations it has with both South Korea and Japan.

“From China’s perspective, the foreign ministers meeting will be a crucial juncture to assess the policy stances of Seoul and Tokyo towards Beijing, which may ultimately influence Beijing’s decision on whether to proceed with the summit,” the pundit added.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.

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