China, South Korea, Japan summit ‘postponed’ amid missile shield row

Talks planned for next month will not go ahead, sources say, with Beijing’s anger over Seoul’s deployment of a missile defence shield among the reasons

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 11:16pm

A summit of top officials from China, South Korea and Japan has been postponed and will not be held next month as Tokyo had planned, according to diplomatic sources.

China’s reluctance to attend partly prompted by the prolonged dispute between Beijing and Seoul over the deployment of a US-developed anti-missile system on the Korean peninsula were blamed, the sources and Japanese media said on Thursday.

Tokyo had wanted to host the summit either between July 19 and 21 or July 24 and 26, but China replied it was “difficult” to attend during those dates, the Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported, citing diplomatic sources.

However, a South Korean diplomatic source told the South China Morning Post that deteriorating relations between China and Japan, which have long been stained by territorial disputes over islands in the East China Sea, were also a reason behind the postponement.

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“The Japanese side said it was because of [the missile system], but as I understand Sino-Japanese relation was also one of the reasons,” the diplomat said.

China is angry over South Korea agreeing to deploy a US-developed missile shield to counter the threat from Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. China says the system poses a threat to its own security.

The South Korean diplomat said another factor in the postponement of the summit may also have been the conflicting schedules of leaders from China and South Korea.

Kyodo said Tokyo was trying to postpone the summit to December, but Chinese analysts noted the timing could prove difficult later this year as China’s Communist Party will hold a party congress in the autumn that will oversee changes in the top leadership.

“Usually the new government will be in office by March and it will take some time before leaders can attend such a summit,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor of international studies at Renmin University in Beijing.

Cheng added that the tensions among the three nations also made a meeting difficult now between the country’s leaders.

“As the disputes remain between China and South Korea, it may take some time to eventually normalise bilateral relations even after the meeting between Xi and Moon,” he said.

The first China-Japan-South Korea summit was held in December 2008, with former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao attending.

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However, the event was not held in 2013 or 2014 amid heightened tensions between China and Japan after the Japanese government announced it was buying a group of disputed islands in the East China Sea from private Japanese owners.

Signs emerged over the past weeks that the long-strained relations between China and Japan may have improved after State Councillor Yang Jiechi visited Tokyo late last month.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Li Baodong was asked on Thursday if a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was to be held on the sidelines of the G20 summit next month in Germany. He said schedules “were still being arranged”.