China is iffy on trilateral summit

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China is iffy on trilateral summit

Korea is trying to arrange a meeting of foreign ministers next month to push forward President Park Geun-hye’s proposal for a three-way summit with China’s premier and Japan’s prime minister, the Blue House said yesterday.

“We are working to hold Korea-China-Japan foreign ministerial talks as early as late December,” said Ju Chul-ki, senior secretary to the president for foreign affairs and national security, yesterday.

Park arrived in Australia yesterday to attend the Group of 20 summit and Ju gave a briefing on Park’s proposal for the trilateral summit, which was made during the Asean+3 summit in Myanmar on Thursday evening.

“Consultations will take place among the three countries after the delegates return home after this meeting,” Ju said. “Based on the outcome [of the foreign ministerial talks], the conditions will be created on when and how the summit will take place.”

Korea, China and Japan have held trilateral summits since 1999, hosting the annual meeting in turns. The last meeting took place in 2012.

“In 2013, Korea was supposed to host the summit and tried to organize it, but because of complicated situations including the China-Japan territorial dispute and Japan’s perception of history, the trilateral summit could not take place as planned,” Ju said.

If the summit takes place, Park will meet with Japan’s Shinzo Abe and China’s Li Keqiang, according to Ju. Although Park met Abe in a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in The Hague on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in March, she has refused to sit down for a bilateral summit with him, citing Japan’s distortion of its military past including the issue of wartime sexual slavery of Korean women. But she did talk to him at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum dinner in Beijing this week.

Japan welcomed Park’s proposal yesterday. Abe said foreign ministers of the three countries should meet soon and the meeting should lead to a summit.

Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s chief cabinet secretary and spokesman for the government, also asked Korea to play a role in arranging a bilateral summit. He expressed hope for a summit between Korea and Japan, saying that the door for dialogue always remained open.

China responded yesterday that Japan’s attitude will decide whether the summit is held. “China values the trilateral cooperation and maintains close communications,” Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. “We believe Japan must show sincerity for a healthy trilateral cooperation and its desirable development and start creating the mood.”

According to government sources, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepared the proposal for a Korea-China-Japan summit before Park’s departure on Sunday for the APEC summit in Beijing요earlier this week.

“At the senior official meeting in Seoul early last month, the three countries agreed that they need to have a foreign ministerial meeting before the end of this year,” a high-ranking source said. “The government reviewed a plan to propose a trilateral summit as an extension.”

Another government official said frigid China-Japan relations were an obstacle, but Park was able to propose the trilateral summit after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Abe earlier this week on the sidelines of the APEC meeting. The three countries’ assistant ministers held a meeting in September and they reached a consensus for a foreign ministerial talk, sources said. The plan, however, did not pick up speed as China demanded changed attitudes from Japan.

Analysts said there is a high possibility that leaders of Korea, China and Japan will sit down for a summit as Park proposed, and they said Korea’s influence will be heightened in the region once the trilateral communication is resumed.

“Having a bilateral summit with Japan is a bad choice at this point,” said Cho Se-young, a professor at Dongseo University and former director general of the East Asia Bureau at the Foreign Ministry. “But proposing the trilateral summit is a clever strategic move. Although it is belated, it is very fortunate that she did so.”

Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said the trilateral summit will allow Korea to push forward its agenda while aligning its stance with China on the history issue.

“China will be able to highlight its diplomatic goal of playing the role of Asia’s leader by uniting Northeast Asia in contrast to China’s contest against Korea, Japan and the United States,” said Bong Young-shik, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “Japan also wanted to end its conflict with China, so it will gladly participate in the trilateral summit.”

Rep. Shim Yoon-joe of the Saenuri Party, who had served as the assistant minister of foreign affairs, said the trilateral summit must not be interpreted as a step toward a Korea-Japan summit.

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