Seoul, Tokyo set to hold director-general meeting

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Seoul, Tokyo set to hold director-general meeting

Seoul and Tokyo will hold their first Foreign Ministry director-general meeting Friday since a major shake-up in Japan’s foreign affairs lineup earlier this month amid ongoing tensions between the two neighbors over trade and historical issues.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry appointed Shigeki Takizaki as its new director-general of its Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau to succeed Kenji Kanasugi.

Kim Jung-han, the Korean Foreign Ministry’s director-general for Asian and Pacific Affairs, will hold his first talks with Takizaki in Tokyo on Friday, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Thursday.

The previous director-general meeting was held last month on Aug. 29 between Kim and Kanasugi following Japan’s removal of Korea from its so-called white list of preferred trade partners earlier the same month and Seoul’s decision not to renew its bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Tokyo.

Takizaki previously headed the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Southeast and Southwest Asian Affairs Department before he took on his new post on Sept. 9.

The director-general meeting in Tokyo will be an opportunity for the two officials to get to know each other and also address various disputes including Japan’s protests of Korea’s top court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during its colonial rule and Tokyo’s implementation of export restrictions against Seoul.

It could also be an opportunity to schedule and set the agenda for a possible foreign ministers’ meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York next week.

With the reshuffling of the Japanese cabinet on Sept. 11, Toshimitsu Motegi was named as Japan’s new foreign minister replacing Taro Kono, who became the defense minister.

Kim In-chul, spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing Thursday on the agenda for the director-general talks, “The two sides will discuss areas of mutual concern tomorrow morning. And it seems they will discuss many things within the limits of areas of mutual concern.”

But Kim added that “nothing has been decided” yet on a meeting between Kang and Motegi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Asahi Shimbun reported Thursday that despite a summit between Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not looking likely in the near future, a trilateral summit with the United States was still a possibility.

The newspaper cited a source familiar with the Blue House situation who said that Korea wants to cooperate with Japan but that a bilateral summit between Seoul and Tokyo at the UN General Assembly may be “too much of a burden” at the moment. However, a trilateral summit involving the United States as a mediator would act as a way to “save face.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his first phone call with Motegi on Monday emphasized the need for “constructive dialogue” between Seoul and Tokyo.

David Stilwell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday that Washington is “actively engaged” in efforts to resolve the trade and history spat between its allies Seoul and Tokyo.

He responded to a question by Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat of New Jersey, who voiced concern over the “devolution” of the relationship between Korea and Japan and asked, “Should we not be playing a role to bring the two allies together and stop the spiral downward?”

Stilwell, who visited Seoul and Tokyo in July, said that he had spent a “considerable” amount of time during the past two and a half months since he took the post to address “concerns on both sides.” He added that even though the “activity may not be visible publicly, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

Stilwell went on to cite efforts such as a trilateral meeting between the top envoys of Seoul, Washington and Tokyo in Bangkok on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit last month.

Lee Do-hoon, Seoul’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, is set to hold talks with his U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun on Friday in Washington amid movement toward the resumption of denuclearization talks with Pyongyang. Lee is then expected to head to New York and meet with Takizaki. There could also be trilateral talks between the three countries’ top nuclear envoys.

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