South Korea, Japan, China Agree to Hold Summit at 'Earliest Convenient Time'

South Korea, Japan, China Agree to Hold Summit at 'Earliest Convenient Time'
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin welcomes Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan Takehiro Funakoshi, Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Nong Rong and Deputy Minister for Political Affairs of the South Korean foreign ministry Jung Byung-won before their meeting ahead of South Korea, China, and Japan trilateral meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept. 25, 2023. (Kim Min-Hee/Pool via Reuters)

SEOUL—Senior diplomats from South Korea, China, and Japan agreed on Tuesday that their countries’ leaders would meet at the “earliest convenient time”, Seoul’s foreign ministry said after a rare meeting aimed at kickstarting trilateral exchanges.

The three countries had agreed to hold a summit every year starting in 2008 to foster regional cooperation, but that initiative has been frayed by bilateral feuds and the COVID-19 pandemic. The last summit was in 2019.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement that specific dates remained under discussion and that the countries’ foreign ministers would meet “in a couple of months.”

South Korea is this year’s host for three-way meetings and has proposed a summit in late December, Japanese broadcaster TBS reported.

Japan’s foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, said the three countries share the need to restart high-level talks, including summits, “as soon as possible.”

“I believe it is very valuable to discuss the various challenges the region faces,” she told a briefing in Tokyo.

The latest meeting was seen partly intended to assuage Beijing’s concerns over the two U.S. allies’ tightening cooperation after Seoul and Tokyo agreed this year to end legal, diplomatic, and trade disputes over issues dating to Japan’s 1910–1945 occupation of Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have taken steps to mend ties and in August held a historic trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, where the three vowed to boost cooperation, including on defense and economic security.

Beijing will most likely look to leverage trilateral trade ties to counterbalance the U.S. friend-shoring strategy, promote people-to-people exchanges, and enhance communication and dialogue with Seoul and Tokyo on security and defense matters, said Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

China’s premier has traditionally attended the trilateral summits, and South Korea is also pushing for a separate visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The latest meeting involved South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Chung Byung-won, Japanese Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takehiro Funakoshi, and Nong Rong, China’s assistant minister of foreign affairs.