From left Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi [Photo by Yonhap]
The foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan, and China held their first in-person meeting in more than four years on Sunday in Korea‘s southeastern port city of Busan.
“We had constructive and productive discussions on the way forward for trilateral cooperation as well as regional and international situations, and also agreed to restore and normalize trilateral cooperation as soon as possible,” South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said after the 10th Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is also a member of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee.
During the meeting, Park proposed three main cooperative measures, including active operation of the stalled trilateral consultation mechanism, exploration of substantive cooperation projects, and expansion of cooperation in areas contributing to regional stability and prosperity.
The meeting also discussed regional and global issues, including tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Park emphasized the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear development and military provocations, such as its recent launch of a military reconnaissance satellite, to regional peace and stability. “For the sake of peace on the Korean Peninsula, South Korea will cooperate with the international community, including Japan and China,” Park said. He also requested support for Busan’s bids to host the 2030 World Expo.
The three ministers agreed on the need to hold a trilateral summit at an early date to normalize trilateral cooperation. “It is necessary to hold the summit as soon as possible to normalize trilateral cooperation,” Park said, adding, “We reaffirmed our agreement to hold the summit at the earliest mutually convenient time and accelerate related preparations.” But the trio failed to decide on the timing of the trilateral summit, leading to speculation that it may not happen within 2023.
The foreign ministers, while speaking in unison on the importance of trilateral cooperation, took a more nuanced approach to regional issues, including North Korea.
Park criticized North Korea’s recent military satellite launch for threatening peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Japan’s Kamikawa also pointed out that “the international situation has become more difficult and complex than ever, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation in the Middle East, and the growing threat from North Korea.”
But China’s Wang avoided addressing the North Korean situation directly, saying that “the global economy is facing complex challenges as a major inflection point in 100 years.”
In a separate bilateral meeting with Park on the same day, Wang also offered only a principled stance on North Korea, saying he would “strive for stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
But both sides highlighted the importance of bilateral economic cooperation during the meeting, reaffirming that South Korea-China economic cooperation is a driving force behind the development of the two countries and sought to find ways to cooperate as much as possible amid the hegemonic rivalry between the United States and China. The two sides also agreed to push for a trilateral summit between South Korea, Japan, and China, which has not been held since 2019. The bilateral meeting lasted for two hours, an hour longer than scheduled.
A bilateral meeting between South Korea and Japan was also held on the same day, with Park and Kamikawa discussing pending bilateral issues, including the Seoul High Court’s recent ruling in favor of Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery in a lawsuit seeking compensation for the victims. The Japanese government strongly protested the ruling last week, calling for appropriate measures to correct the “violation of international law.”
Kamikawa reiterated such a position during the meeting with Park, to which Park responded that Seoul “respects the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement on comfort women.” The two ministers also agreed to promote cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and the United States in the field of high technology, as well as cooperation between consular authorities in South Korea and Japan. The bilateral meeting lasted 85 minutes.
Wang left for China immediately after the trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting, skipping the subsequent joint press conference and dinner. The Chinese side reportedly excused the quick departure in advance, citing urgent circumstances that required Wang’s immediate departure, but some analysts said that China’s decision to skip the press conference could carry political messages.
By Song Gwang-sup and Yoon Yeon-hae
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