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Park Jin Beijing

Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing commit to reviving cooperation

Diplomats representing South Korea, Japan, and China convened on Sunday to deliberate the reinstatement of their trilateral summit, dormant for four years, and to strategize on fortifying collaboration among these three Northeast Asian nations. Inextricably linked economically and culturally, this triumvirate collectively contributes approximately a quarter of the global gross domestic product. However, attempts to augment trilateral synergy have encountered impediments, entwined with historical disputes emanating from Japan’s wartime aggression and the strategic rivalry between China and the United States.

Historical Impediments

Initiating the meeting in Busan, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin underscored the vast potential for substantial collaboration among Korea, Japan, and China. He articulated the imperative nature of their intertwined proximity, emphasizing the irrefutable interconnectedness of these neighboring nations. Expressing optimism, Park aspired to expedite the South Korea-Japan-China summit, an apex of trilateral cooperation.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa of Japan and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, echoed Park’s sentiment, pledging collective efforts to rejuvenate three-way cooperation. Park further anticipated that the meeting would delve into collaborative strategies addressing North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, alongside discussions on trade, climate change, and personnel exchange.

In September, high-ranking officials from the three nations concurred to recommence the trilateral summit “at the earliest convenient time.” Since its inaugural stand-alone trilateral summit in 2008, annual meetings among the leaders have been the anticipated norm. However, their summit has been plagued by intermittent suspensions and has remained at a standstill since 2019.

Regional Security Dynamics

The intricate tapestry of their relationships is interwoven with a myriad of complex and delicate issues. South Korea and Japan, pivotal U.S. military allies, host a cumulative total of 80,000 American troops on their respective territories. Their recent collaborative efforts to bolster trilateral security cooperation with the United States have drawn ire from China, sensitive to any actions perceived as containment of its ascension to dominance in Asia.

Some observers posit that the conciliatory tone struck by Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden during their recent face-to-face meeting provides a diplomatic opening for Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing to navigate avenues to revive three-way cooperation.

The ministers engaged in bilateral talks on the periphery of the summit. Following her meeting with Wang, Kamikawa reiterated Japan’s demand for the lifting of China’s ban on seafood imports in response to Japan’s discharge of treated radioactive wastewater. In response, Wang characterized Japan’s actions as “irresponsible” and advocated for an independent monitoring mechanism for the wastewater disposal process.

Notwithstanding the complexities, relations between South Korea and Japan have experienced a warming trend in recent months. Both countries have taken significant strides to move beyond historical disputes, fostering increased bilateral cooperation in response to shared challenges, particularly North Korea’s advancing nuclear program.

However, a recent court ruling in Seoul ordering Japan to financially compensate Koreans subjected to sexual slavery during the colonial period served as a stark reminder of their tumultuous past. Kamikawa, in her meeting with Park, expressed deep regret over the verdict, urging South Korea to address breaches of international law. The ministers also condemned North Korea’s recent spy satellite launch.

In bilateral discussions with Wang, Park implored China to play a constructive role in persuading North Korea to cease provocations and embark on denuclearization. Wang positioned China as a stabilizing force in the region, committing to a constructive role in easing tensions on the peninsula. He emphasized the need for strengthened trade and economic ties between China and South Korea, critiquing the inclination to politicize economic matters. Amidst concerns over North Korea’s nuclear-capable missiles, suspicions linger regarding China’s enforcement of UN sanctions and clandestine assistance to North Korea, countering U.S. influences in the region.

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