China, Japan and South Korea agree talks to calm fears over US ties

Trilateral discussions to resume in response to Beijing’s fears over growing US influence in region

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea will hold three-way talks “as soon as possible” after a meeting intended to ease Chinese concerns over Washington’s stronger security presence in the region.

Official said on Tuesday that the three countries’ deputy foreign ministers had agreed to revive trilateral talks after a four-year hiatus during which tensions have risen over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and Chinese military activity.

Lim Soo-suk, a spokesperson for South Korea’s foreign ministry, said the leaders’ summit would be held at the “earliest mutually convenient time”, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Japan’s foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, said the three countries shared 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.

China has expressed alarm over deepening ties between Washington and its two allies in north-east Asia, which are home to tens of thousands of US troops.

In August, South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, and the US president, Joe Biden, hailed a “new chapter” in three-way security cooperation after a historical summit at Camp David.

China denounced the summit, saying it “opposes relevant countries forming various cliques and their practices of exacerbating confrontation and jeopardising other countries’ strategic security”. It was particularly angered by a reference in the Camp David statement to China’s “aggressive behaviour” in the South China Sea.

Washington has attempted to present a united regional front against Chinese military activity near Taiwan and North Korea’s development of powerful weapons of mass destruction.

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said on Tuesday that Beijing would oppose the “wanton expansion of military alliances and the squeezing of the security space of other countries”, in what appeared to be a warning against any attempt to establish a Nato-like military alliance in the Asia-Pacific.

Forces from Japan, South Korea and the US have held joint military exercises in response to the threat from North Korea, while China – North Korea’s biggest aid donor and trading partner – has recently sent senior officials to attend military parades in Pyongyang.

Japan and South Korea have an interest in maintaining a stable security relationship with China, including its help addressing North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, according to Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“These shared interests open up new avenues for strategic communication, confidence-building, and measures to prevent crises,” Zhao said.

The prospects for a revival of formal talks between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea have risen following a recent thaw in ties between Tokyo and Seoul.

Yoon and his fellow conservative Kishida appear to have settled long-running rows over how much responsibility Japan should bear for its actions on the Korean peninsula before and during the second world war, including its use of “comfort women” and forced labour.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said cooperation between the three neighbours was essential to the “peace, stability, and prosperity of the world”, adding that together they accounted for 20% of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s GDP.

In similarly conciliatory tones, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said China, Japan and South Korea had a common interest in improving bilateral ties.

“We should work together to strengthen practical cooperation … and make new contributions to regional peace, stability, and prosperity,” Wang said on Tuesday.


Justin McCurry in Tokyo, and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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