CORNWALL, England/SEOUL -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged greetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday at the G-7 summit in the UK. But a separate session does not appear to be in the cards this time, amid speculation that the two leaders might get together for a bilateral meeting or a trilateral one with the US.
Moon and Suga “exchanged greetings” just before the start of an expanded session of the G-7 summit at Carbis Bay Hotel and Estate in Cornwall, southwestern England, said Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee, without elaborating further. South Korea was invited as a guest to this year’s Group of Seven wealthy democracies gathering, which runs from Friday to Sunday, along with Australia, India and South Africa.
Kyodo News, citing Japanese government officials, said the two met by accident and were happy to see each other, adding that it was Moon who approached Suga to speak to him.
Moon and first lady Kim Jung-sook also talked for about a minute with their Japanese counterparts, Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga, at a reception hosted by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, according to Japanese broadcaster ANN.
Their encounter marks the first face-to-face meeting between Moon and Suga since the Japanese leader took office last September. They talked over the phone Sept. 24 after Suga assumed leadership of the country, but no in-person talks have been held, reflecting strained bilateral ties over economic and historic disputes.
Leading up to the G-7 summit, there was growing speculation that a pull-aside meeting might happen between Suga and Moon, or a trilateral session including US President Joe Biden, as heads of state often hold spontaneous meetings on the fringes of the G-7 summit. Seoul had not completely ruled out the possibility of trilateral or bilateral meetings before Moon’s departure.
But considering Moon’s packed schedule on Sunday, the third and final day of the summit, a separate meeting with Suga and Biden appears less likely this time.
Seoul has been seeking to defuse diplomatic tensions with Tokyo, which are rooted in Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and have morphed into an ongoing economic feud. This comes as the Biden administration pushes for tighter trilateral cooperation with its two Northeast Asian allies in the face of an assertive China and a defiant North Korea.
While Moon has expressed a willingness to talk with his Japanese counterpart and both countries do recognize the need to mend soured relations, observers say Suga, who has his hands full with domestic issues, sees little benefit in holding a summit with Seoul at this time. With a year left of Moon’s term, Tokyo also expects no drastic progress to be made in resolving pending issues.
At the summit, Moon also met with Biden, where he expressed gratitude to the US for providing Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to South Korea. The two met in Washington last month for a summit, during which Biden agreed to send 1 million doses of the Janssen vaccine for South Korean troops.
After wrapping up the G-7 session on Sunday, Moon is set to fly to Austria for a state visit, marking the first visit to the country by a South Korean president since the two sides established diplomatic ties in 1892.
While in Vienna, Moon is to have summit talks with President Alexander Van der Bellen and a meeting with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
He will then fly to Spain on Tuesday for a three-day visit, during which he is scheduled to hold a summit with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. He is also set to meet with King Felipe VI.
By Ahn Sung-mi and Joint Press Corps (firstname.lastname@example.org