Asian powers hold talks after three-year hiatus

Foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea gather in Seoul for meeting meant to to calm regional tensions.

South Korea's Yun Byung-Se, Japanese FM Fumio Kishida and China's Wang Yi (not in photo) attended the talks in Seoul [AFP]
South Korea's Yun Byung-Se, Japanese FM Fumio Kishida and China's Wang Yi (not in photo) attended the talks in Seoul [AFP]

The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan have gathered in Seoul for their first meeting in nearly three years.

Saturday’s meeting will seek to calm regional tensions rooted in territorial and other diplomatic disputes between the three nations.

Ministers from the three countries will also hold bilateral meetings to discuss whether South Korea and Japan will join a China-led development bank and the potential deployment of a US air defence system to counter North Korea’s missile threat.

Although they have strong economic ties, the nations’ overall relations have long been tainted by unresolved historical issues dating back to Japan’s colonisation of the Korean peninsula and occupation of parts of China before and during World War II.

Both China and South Korea have maintained a frosty distance from Japan in recent years, although China-Korean ties have been enjoying an upswing.

Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from Seoul, said unresolved historical grievances continue to affect ties between the three countries.

“There have been a number of different issues which plague relations between these three countries. South Korea and China would lay much of the blame at the door of Japan – and in particular Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, for what they see as a resurgent nationalism in Japan and ongoing refusal – from their perspective – of Japan to accept responsibility for war crimes during World War II,” he said.

“South Korean and China were victims of invasion and colonisation and suffered atrocities which they say Japan still refuses to take responsibility for. They see in Shinzo Abe a hawkish leader who has made a controversial visit to war shrines in his country.” 

‘Missing link’ 

Yun Byung-se, South Korea’s foreign minister, told local media this week that efforts were “necessary to create the conditions for the summit meeting to be realised”.

The summit, on hold since May 2012, had been an annual fixture from 2008.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has described the lack of reconciliation between the three countries – which together account for roughly 20 percent of global GDP – as a “missing link” for peace and stability in East Asia.

The US is troubled by what it calls the “strategic liability” posed by the rift between South Korea and Japan – its two main military allies in Asia – and would prefer they focus on forming a united front against an increasingly assertive China.

China and South Korea feel Japan has failed to express sufficient remorse for its wartime past – and both reacted angrily when Abe visited a Tokyo shrine that honours Japan’s war dead, including a number of senior war criminals, in December 2013.

The resumption of the annual trilateral meeting of foreign ministers marks a step forward and could pave the way for a trilateral leadership summit – possibly later in the year, reported the AFP news agency.

There was no set agenda for Saturday’s talks, and it is possible the three foreign ministers will seek to focus on less sensitive areas of cooperation like disaster risk reduction and the environment, in order to maintain momentum.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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