SEOUL, Sept 26 (Reuters) – South Korea hosted senior diplomats from China and Japan for a rare trilateral meeting on Tuesday aimed at allaying Beijing’s concerns about boosting cooperation between the two U.S.-allied countries and Washington.
The meeting is partly intended to pave the way for the resumption of trilateral summits between the countries’ leaders, which were last held in 2019. Those talks were suspended amid legal, diplomatic and trade disputes between Seoul and Tokyo over issues dating back to Japan. 1910-1945 Occupation of Korea.
Since then, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have taken 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 government official said China has been proactive in seeking trilateral cooperation and arranging meetings since relations between Seoul and Beijing soured in 2017 over the deployment of the US THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea.
“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 trilateral summits are usually attended by the Chinese Premier, but South Korea is also pushing for a separate visit by President Xi Jinping.
Japanese channel TBS reported that South Korea is hosting trilateral meetings this year and proposed holding a trilateral summit in December during the talks that took place on Tuesday.
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.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press conference on Monday that China, Japan and South Korea are close neighbors and important cooperation partners, and strengthening trilateral cooperation serves their common interests.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyunhee Shin in Seoul – Prepared by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Additional reporting by Liz Lee in Beijing. Writing by Josh Smith. Edited by Gerry Doyle
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