South Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated that the top diplomats from South Korea, Japan, and China will convene in South Korea over the weekend to explore the possibility of restarting their leaders’ summit.
An annual trilateral meeting among the leaders of the three Northeast Asian nations hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the often touchy ties among them. The three-way summit began in 2008.
While the three nations are close economic and cultural partners with one another, their relationships have suffered on-and-off setbacks due to a mix of issues such as Japan’s wartime atrocities, the U.S.-China rivalry and North Korea’s nuclear program.
The foreign ministers of the three countries are to meet in the southeastern South Korean city of Busan on Sunday to prepare for their leaders’ summit and exchange views on ways to strengthen three-way cooperation and other regional and international issues, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The three ministers are to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines as well.
In September, senior officials of the three nations agreed to restart the trilateral summit “at the earliest convenient time.”
South Korea and Japan are key United States allies in the region and they host about 80,000 American troops on their soils combined. Their recent push to bolster a trilateral Seoul-Tokyo-Washington security partnership triggered rebukes from Beijing, which is extremely sensitive to any moves it sees as trying to hold China back.
When North Korea launched its first military spy satellite into space Tuesday night, Seoul, Tokyo and Washington spoke with one voice in strongly condemning the launch. They said the launch involved the North’s efforts improve its missile technology as well as establish a space-based surveillance system. But China, the North’s major ally, asked all concerned nations to keep calm and exercise restraints, echoing statements that it previously issued when North Korea inflamed tensions with major weapons tests.
United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit any satellite liftoffs by North Korea, viewing them as covers for testing its long-range missile technology. The North says it has a sovereign right to launch satellites.
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo soured badly in recent years due to issues stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. But bilateral relations have improved significantly recently as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol pushes to move beyond history disputes and bolster cooperation to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear threats and other issues.
But in a reminder of their complicated relations, a Seoul court this week ordered Japan to financially compensative Koreans forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during the colonial period. Japan called the ruling “absolutely unacceptable,” arguing that it violated the international law and bilateral agreements.
Japan and China have also long tussled over Japanese WWII atrocities and the East China Sea islands claimed by both. Recently, the two nations became embroiled in a trade dispute after China banned seafood imports from Japan in protest of its discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from its tsunami-hit nuclear power plant.