Annual trilateral summit 'at risk' amid strained relations

Annual meeting of Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul reportedly could be put off as territorial disputes continue to hamper diplomatic efforts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 5:39am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 5:39am

An annual trilateral summit involving the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea is likely to be postponed because of strained ties among the three countries, Japanese media says.

The development comes despite disclosures that officials from China and Japan have been holding secret talks, which observers believe is a sign Beijing is reluctant to engage in high-profile discussions with Tokyo, but is willing to indicate the door for dialogue is open.

The summit, which was due to be held in South Korea, will probably not be held this year as Seoul has yet to put forward an agenda and itinerary, Kyodo News cited unnamed Japanese government officials as saying.

The report said the relationship between China and Japan was still frayed because of territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan. Ties between Japan and South Korea have also been tense due to disputes over islets Seoul calls Dokdo, but which Japan calls Takeshima, and disagreements on the issue of "comfort women".

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for dialogue with China during the East Asia Summit last week, following the absence of any talks between him and Premier Li Keqiang , or President Xi Jinping , on the sidelines of two recent regional summits.

But Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said officials at various levels from Japan and China had been holding secret talks recently.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed the exchanges but said some of the "specifics" in media reports were incorrect.

Kyodo reported Chinese officials had attempted to take steps towards holding summit talks between the two sides .Zhou Yongsheng , an expert in Japanese affairs at the China Foreign Affairs University, said China was reluctant to send ministerial level officials to Japan.

Professor Lian Degui , of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said officials from both sides would have discussed "technical issues" but would not have been able to reach a consensus on conditions for senior politicians to talk.

"Both sides are still seriously divided regarding the territorial disputes, and there is no ground for high-level talks," Lian said. "But communications at the low level will continue to show both sides are still proactively engaging each other despite tensions."

Liu Jiangyong , a Japanese affairs expert at Tsinghua University, said conditions were not ripe for top leaders from China and Japan to meet.

"Sending foreign affairs officials to maintain bilateral talks is a normal diplomatic activity," he said. "But don't expect the two sides to make significant progress through such diplomatic exchanges."

In a related development, Abe donated a symbolic gift to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, a sign that he will avoid a visit that would have angered China and South Korea.

Hua said Abe should not visit the shrine.

"We again ask Japan to seriously contemplate its history of aggression, and to sincerely respect the feelings of China and other victimised countries," Hua said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters