Urging Tokyo to change
South Korea, China and Japan tentatively agreed to seek a trilateral summit of leaders of the three Asian countries as soon as possible. In a joint statement following a meeting in Seoul among foreign ministers Yun Byung-se of South Korea, Wang Yi of China, and Fumio Kishida of Japan, the three countries agreed to work toward a tripartite summit “at the earliest convenient time.”
The three-way foreign ministerial meeting was held for the first time since 2012 after a rift has been renewed and worsened by Japan’s revisionist interpretations of historical issues and territorial disputes. It is meaningful that the foreign ministers agreed to seek trilateral talks. Odds are low that either the South Korean or Chinese presidents would agree to separate talks with their Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, so a three-way summit meeting is the only way to ease regional tensions and normalize the relationship among the three East Asian countries.
An old Cold War-like rivalry has surfaced in Asia due to tension between the United States and rising power China with Washington aligning itself with Seoul and Tokyo while Beijing rekindles old ties with Pyongyang and Moscow. South Korea must do its best to avoid falling back into its days of ideological confrontation. The balancing act of maintaining a traditional alliance with Washington and a strategic partnership with Beijing has become pivotal for Seoul and to sustaining peace and prosperity in the region. Seoul cannot do it alone. It needs cooperation from Beijing and Tokyo. Once the tripartite relationship improves, so will bilateral issues. The three nations must continue to cooperate.
Despite the rhetorical agreement, it remains unclear when and if the leaders of the three countries will sit down for talks. China wants to put the talks off until after the Japanese prime minister makes a statement in August to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Seoul mediated as the host of the foreign ministerial meeting and stressed that the three must urgently restore ties regardless of differences over historical issues.
The prospect of a three-way summit is now in the hands of Tokyo. The summit talks could be realized more easily if Abe changes his attitude from his revisionist and unapologetic view of past aggressions when he addresses the U.S. Congress during his visit to Washington next month. If he disappoints or irks China or Korea through insensitive comments, the regional schism will worsen. Seoul must continue to encourage Tokyo to change.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 23, Page 30