Japan-China-ROK Foreign Ministers: Meeting Clearly Illustrates Differences Among 3 Nations

Differences have been exposed in the positions taken by Japan and South Korea, both of which are deepening their cooperation, and China, which continues to unilaterally promote its own agenda.

Japan, China and South Korea held a trilateral foreign ministers’ meeting in Busan, South Korea, during which the ministers confirmed that the three countries will work to hold a trilateral summit as soon as possible and promote cooperation in six areas, including the fields of people-to-people exchanges and science and technology.

A trilateral summit has not been held since 2019 due to the deteriorating relations between Japan and South Korea and the COVID-19 pandemic. South Korea, the chair nation, had sought to host a summit by the end of this year, but was unable to arrange it.

A joint press conference and a dinner meeting for the foreign ministers of the three countries was also scheduled in Busan. However, these events were canceled due to circumstances on the Chinese side. Beijing is believed to have aimed to keep a certain distance from Japan and South Korea.

Japan-South Korea relations improved after a bilateral summit in March this year. Since then, security cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea has also been augmented. Last month, the Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. and South Korean air forces conducted their first joint aerial drills in the south of the Korean Peninsula to counter military provocations by North Korea.

Meanwhile, China continues to defend North Korea, which has been heightening its provocations. It is obvious that China bears some responsibility for destabilizing the region.

As for Japan-China relations, Beijing has criticized the ocean release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. and continues to ban imports of Japanese seafood, ignoring scientific evidence.

Relations between China and South Korea have also been strained since the deployment in 2017 of a missile defense system by the U.S. armed forces stationed in South Korea.

To foster trust and normalize cooperative relations among Japan, China and South Korea, it is essential for China to behave responsibly, as befits a major power. China must encourage North Korea to exercise restraint and deter its nuclear and missile development. China should also amend its assertions that show contempt for Japan.

In Busan, bilateral foreign ministers’ meetings between Japan and China, and between Japan and South Korea, were held on the sidelines of the trilateral meeting.

At the Japan-China talks, Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa asked her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for China to immediately lift the ban on Japanese seafood imports. However, the ministers only confirmed that dialogue on that subject would continue.

China has long called for an independent inspection of the waters around Fukushima. However, a Chinese expert is participating in the monitoring activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so it would make no sense for China to conduct its own inspection.

In a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, Kamikawa protested a Seoul High Court ruling ordering the Japanese government to compensate former comfort women and called for the South Korean government to respond appropriately.

Park reportedly indicated that Seoul would respect the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement, which confirmed that the issue of comfort women was resolved finally and irreversibly. The South Korean government is urged to take action to prevent Japan-South Korea relations, which are improving, from moving backward.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2023)