China, Japan and S Korea agree to foreign minister talks despite lingering tensions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 September, 2014, 7:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2014, 11:49am

China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to push for the resumption of a trilateral meeting among their foreign ministers within this year, but differing views on historical issues remains a major stumbling block, a senior diplomat from Seoul said on Thursday.

The three Northeast Asian countries agreed to seek the three-way talks, an annual event that has been put on hold since 2012, after a meeting between their senior diplomats in Seoul earlier this month, according to Shin Bong-kil, president of the Institute on Foreign Affairs and National Security at the Korea National Diplomacy Academy.

At the high-level trilateral meeting on September 11 – the first such meeting in 10 months – South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se met with vice-foreign ministers from China and Japan, Liu Zhenmin and Shinsuke Sugiyama respectively.

The three countries agreed to revive trilateral cooperation and rebuild trust.

But the lingering China-Japan dispute on history, particularly Japan’s conduct in the second world war, has remained a major obstacle, said Shin, who served as the secretary general of Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat until last year.

“The atmosphere is still not right, but I am optimistic,” he told at luncheon at the Hong Kong Asia Society.

A trilateral foreign minister meeting could also help prepare a summit of the three state leaders, Shin added.

The Asian neighbours have been locked in bitter historical and territorial disputes. Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korea’s Park Geun-hye have refused to hold bilateral talks with their Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe since he took office in late 2012.

Abe’s hawkish view on Japan’s wartime history is seen as a major irritant in the country’s relationship with its two neighbours.

The three countries’ annual trilateral summit has been halted since it was last held in Beijing in 2012.

Shin said South Korea was now “more flexible than before” regarding the history issue and was ready to play a role in pushing for the resumption of a summit of the three leaders.

“The three countries are not just small countries, they are important countries in the world,” Shin said. “If the three countries don’t get along, it’s a real problem.”

There have been signs that Beijing and Seoul are more forthcoming in improving their ties with Japan.

Last week, Park received former Japanese Prime Minsiter Yoshiro Mori, who delivered a handwritten letter from Abe calling on efforts to improve bilateral ties.

In July, China’s Xi also met with visiting former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in a move widely seen as paving way for a face-to-face meeting between Xi and Abe at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in November.