Asia Minute: Rough Diplomatic Week in North Asia

Aug 22, 2019

This has been a very busy week for diplomacy in Northeast Asia. Some of the talks involve the United States, but the highest level meetings involve three of the largest countries in the region.

For the first time in three years, the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea and China have met face to face. Plans are for the leaders of the three countries to meet sometime before the end of the year.

One theme of Wednesday’s meeting in China: a vague promise to support free trade in the region.

The timing is awkward, Japan and South Korea are bitterly divided by both economics and history. Last year South Korean courts ruled that Japanese companies should pay compensation for wartime labor — an issue the Tokyo government says was settled when the two countries normalized relations in 1965.

This year, Japan has imposed export controls to South Korea on certain tech products — a move the Seoul government says is illegal under international trade rules.

China encouraged the two countries to resolve their differences, while the South Koreans and the Japanese both raised the issue of Hong Kong — a topic China’s foreign minister says is an “internal matter.”

One point of agreement was a broadly worded statement to work together on North Korea.

That was the topic of a separate meeting between U.S. and South Korean officials in Seoul — where the U.S. representative said Washington is waiting to hear from Pyongyang to resume working-level discussions.

As for talks on South Korea increasing its payments supporting U.S. forces stationed in the country. Those have been delayed until after September’s mid-month national holiday of Chuesok.