South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong is in London to attend the Group of Seven meeting, and all eyes are on Chung to see whether he finally gets to hold talks with his Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, and set the stage for a thaw in bilateral ties.
Chung flew to London on Sunday to attend the gathering of G-7 foreign and development ministers, which will last through Wednesday. During his stay, Chung is scheduled to hold a series of bilateral talks on the margins, with meetings with his US, UK, EU and Indian counterparts confirmed so far.
A trilateral talk between Chung, Motegi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also expected Wednesday, with North Korea’s nuclear issue likely to top the agenda.
If realized, it will be the first time Chung and Motegi meet in person since the South Korean diplomat took office in February.
Also drawing attention is whether the top envoys of the bickering neighbors will hold a separate bilateral session. According to the Foreign Ministry it is pushing to arrange the talks, but no meeting has been confirmed yet.
Chung in March expressed a desire to meet Motegi at an early date, “anywhere and in any format,” but Japan has been unresponsive to Seoul’s diplomatic overtures amid an ongoing trade and political feud.
It’s been three months since Chung began his term, but he has not yet had a phone call with Motegi, in an apparent reflection of tensions between the two countries.
Seoul has sought to defuse the diplomatic row with Tokyo, which is rooted in Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and has morphed into an ongoing economic feud. This comes as the Joe Biden administration pushes for tighter trilateral cooperation with the US’ two Northeast Asian allies in the face of an assertive China and a defiant North Korea.
Observers say, however, that even if Chung and Motegi do meet, the prospects of reconciliation are poor, especially after years of distrust and with both sides refusing to budge on the outstanding issues. The frayed ties worsened further after Tokyo’s recent decision to discharge radioactive wastewater from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
Meanwhile, Chung was to hold talks with Blinken in London on Monday morning (UK time), with the two sides expected to discuss various issues, including COVID-19 vaccine cooperation and how to deal with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang. Washington announced last week the completion of its months-long policy review on the reclusive regime.
The US will pursue a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with Pyongyang, with the goal of the North’s complete denuclearization, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki. She also stressed that the US policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience, hinting a shift from Trump’s top-down “grand bargain” approach and Obama’s “strategic patience.”
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org