Tuesday’s trilateral conference with top diplomats from China, Japan, and South Korea was viewed as an effort to allay Beijing’s concerns over the two US allies’ escalating collaboration with Washington.
The gathering intends to prepare the ground to restart the three-way summits between the presidents of the nations, which were last held in 2019. These discussions were put on hold because of disagreements between Seoul and Tokyo about legal, diplomatic, and commerce matters related to Japan’s 1910–1945 occupation of Korea.
Following efforts to improve relations, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida conducted a historic trilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden in August. At the summit, the three promised to increase cooperation, particularly in the areas of defence and security.
According to a senior South Korean government official, China has taken the initiative to promote trilateral cooperation and set up talks ever since Seoul and Beijing’s ties deteriorated in 2017 over the installation of a US THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea.
“I’m sure there should be some discomfort on their side regarding our increasingly close trilateral security partnerships with the United States and Japan. There seems to be a view there that they need to properly manage bilateral ties with us, as they saw how their THAAD responses backfired and fuelled anti-China sentiment to serious levels,” the official said.s
Tong Zhao, senior fellow at the American Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, predicted that Beijing would use trilateral trade ties to counterbalance the US friend-shoring strategy, advance intercultural exchanges, and improve communication and dialogue with Seoul and Tokyo on security and defence issues.
He said that Japan and South Korea have an interest in preventing crises, upholding a secure security relationship with China, and enlisting Beijing’s help in reducing, if not completely stopping, North Korea’s substantial nuclear development programme.
“These shared interests open up new avenues for strategic communication, confidence-building, and measures to prevent crises,” Zhao said.
The Chinese premier has often attended the trilateral meetings, but South Korea is also advocating for a separate visit by President Xi Jinping.
According to Japanese broadcaster TBS, South Korea, which is hosting three-way talks this year, suggested holding a trilateral summit in December at the discussions on Tuesday.
The most recent meeting was attended by Nong Rong, China’s assistant foreign minister, Chung Byung-won, South Korea’s deputy foreign minister, and Takehiro Funakoshi, Japan’s senior deputy foreign minister.
The spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, stated during a briefing on Monday that developing trilateral cooperation serves the interests of China, Japan, and South Korea, who are all near neighbours and significant cooperating partners.