Possible Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing summit ‘in discussion’: report

But China has been exhibiting reluctance in proceeding with the trilateral summit, source says.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
2023.12.27
Seoul, South Korea
Possible Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing summit ‘in discussion’: report Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa pose for a photo prior to the 10th trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting in Busan, South Korea, Nov. 26, 2023.
Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuters

South Korea, China, and Japan are reportedly continuing discussions to hold a trilateral summit – an initiative that Seoul and Tokyo see as an opportunity to send a unified warning to North Korea and curb its nuclear ambitions.

“Arrangements are underway for a summit of the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea in February or sometime later,” Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday, without citing any specific source.

“Tokyo wants to use the framework of dialogue among the three nations to exchange views on North Korea, which has made repeated ballistic missile launches, among other issues,” it said, adding that Japan plans to schedule the summit while keeping in mind the timing of its regular Diet session next year. 

The trilateral summit has typically been a platform for key Asian nations to strengthen their economic ties and present a united diplomatic stance on mutually agreeable issues such as the denuclearization of North Korea.

However, the escalating rivalry between the United States and China, along with South Korea’s recent lean towards the U.S., thereby increasing the strategic value of North Korea, has caused Beijing to hold back from publicly criticizing Pyongyang.

For instance, during the meeting foreign ministers of the three nations in South Korea’s port city of Busan last month, they failed in issuing a statement jointly condemning North Korea’s satellite launch. 

Apart from that, the foreign ministers not only failed to agree on a date for a significant trilateral summit of their leaders but also did not conduct a joint press conference, an unusual move that may indicate differing diplomatic positions among these major Asian geopolitical players.

A senior South Korean official, familiar with the situation, told Radio Free Asia that despite the NHK report, China has been exhibiting reluctance in proceeding with the trilateral summit. 

Requesting anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter, the source said that it still remains uncertain whether the summit could be convened early next year at this stage.

Beijing’s concerns

China’s commitment to the trilateral summit platform is still questionable, given its rise as a global power and a shift in focus away from regional issues. Additionally, the growing cooperation between South Korea and Japan with the United States within this framework has been a cause of concern for Beijing.

With South Korea’s current conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration, Seoul has been more vocal in 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 democratically self-governed island of Taiwan.

As Seoul has been aligning its diplomatic messages with Washington and Tokyo, Beijing has shown its reluctance in criticizing Pyongyang – its few remaining allies in the region against the democracies.

For instance, after North Korea’s satellite launch last month, Beijing refrained from issuing a public criticism, as the strategic value of Pyongyang has been raised due to intensifying U.S.-China relations. 

China’s foreign ministry often expressed its regrets about such acts in previous occasions, as 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.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Elaine Chan.

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