Korea, Japan, U.S. diplomats meet in Tokyo

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Korea, Japan, U.S. diplomats meet in Tokyo

From left, Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

From left, Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman hold a joint press conference following their meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman called on North Korea to “respond positively” to America's call for engagement and dialogue after meeting with her Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo on Wednesday.
 
“The United States has made it clear that we are ready to engage with North Korea, they know that,” she said during a joint press conference hosted with Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori. “We hope they'll respond positively.”
 
Sherman’s statement was an extension of an invitation to the North that U.S. nuclear envoy Sung Kim offered during a visit to Seoul last month.  
 
During the visit, Kim said the U.S. government is ready to meet with the North “anywhere, anytime without preconditions.” Within the week, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon issued a statement saying North Korea was nowhere near considering “any contact with the U.S.”
 
Alluding to these exchanges, Sherman added during the conference on Wednesday, “We must exercise some patience, perhaps not too much but some.”
 
The deputy minister-level U.S.-Korea-Japan meeting on Wednesday was the first in four years and the eighth ever. The first was held in Washington in 2015 and hosted by Antony Blinken who was deputy secretary of state at the time. Blinken is now Secretary of State.
 
In addition to highlighting renewed trilateral commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea, the State Department stressed Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation for peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and in the Taiwan Strait – topics that have been touchy for China.
 
“The Deputy Secretary and the two vice foreign ministers […] affirmed the need to maintain an inclusive, free, and open Indo-Pacific; opposed any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea; and pledged to maintain peace and stability, lawful unimpeded commerce, and respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and beyond,” said Ned Price, spokesperson of the State Department, in a statement Wednesday. “The discussion also emphasized the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
 
After a statement following a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden on May 21 mentioned the “importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the Chinese government protested immediately.
 
In a press briefing three days after the summit, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “The Taiwan question is China's internal affair,” adding that it “allows no interference by external forces” and relevant countries should “refrain from playing with fire.”
 
Korea’s Foreign Ministry also released a statement following the press conference on Wednesday, but apart from cooperation on North Korea, it highlighted trilateral cooperation in different areas from the ones mentioned by the U.S. government.  
 
“The three vice ministers of Korea, the United States and Japan reaffirmed their commitment to trilateral cooperation for regional involvement under the consensus that peace, stability and prosperity in the region is the common interest of the three countries,” it said. 
 
“The three vice ministers shared their deep concerns about the situation in Myanmar and agreed to cooperate for a prompt resolution of the situation. In addition, the three vice ministers agreed to continue to seek future-oriented and mutually beneficial cooperation methods […] in responding to global issues such as climate change and health issues.”
 
The trilateral meeting took place amidst icy relations between Japan and Korea. After weeks of attempts to arrange a leaders summit between South Korea and Japan, President Moon abandoned the idea Monday, following a Japanese envoy calling his efforts masturbatory.  
 
The gaffe was protested by the Korean government and brought up again during Choi and Mori’s meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday, when Choi protested the envoy’s “rude and undiplomatic speech” and requested “appropriate action soon” from Tokyo, widely considered by local media outlets as the dismissal of Soma from his position. 
 
"We have made our position clear to the Japanese government," a Foreign Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily Tuesday. "We have requested an action from the Japanese government to ensure that such an incident is not repeated again."
 

Historical issues between the two nations, including the so-called “comfort women,” or Japanese wartime sexual slavery, and the forced laborer issues, were also discussed during the meeting.  
 
The press release by Korea’s Foreign Ministry following the meeting remained mum on whether the two sides reached any understanding on the issues, simply stating that either side’s views were exchanged.  
 
Choi during the press conference on Wednesday stressed the importance of bilateral ties.  
 
“The trilateral cooperation amongst Korea, Japan and United States – and especially the cooperation between Korea and Japan – will move in a positive direction,” Choi said.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, JEONG JIN-WOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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