The Korea Herald


Cheong Wa Dae says trilateral summit with China, Japan still under discussion

By Lee Ji-yoon

Published : Nov. 15, 2021 - 14:48

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Cheong Wa Dae on Monday said that discussions are still underway to hold a trilateral summit between South Korea, China and Japan this year, denying a recent Japanese news report that Seoul has asked to postpone the meeting again.

The three neighboring countries have held a summit every year under a rotation system, but last year’s Seoul meeting was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With less than two months left in the year, expectations are low that a meeting will take place this year as well. While the three nations are still struggling to bring their pandemic-hit economies back to normalcy, there is also no immediate sign of improvement in the prolonged diplomatic feud between Korea and Japan.

On Saturday, Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that this year’s trilateral summit is highly likely to fall apart, saying the Korean government has already relayed its intention to delay the meeting to the Japanese government.

The report pointed to soured Korea-Japan relations as the key reason behind the delay. It said President Moon has sought to thaw the tensions on the occasion of the trilateral meeting but the Japanese government is reluctant to do so without Seoul changing its stance on historic issues.

Korea’s presidential office, however, flatly denied the report, calling it “baseless.”

“We made no such request to the Japanese government,” a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said on the condition of anonymity. “Nothing has been decided on the trilateral meeting. The final decision will be made after close consultations among all three nations.”

On multiple occasions, Moon has expressed his will to make a breakthrough in the Korea-Japan relations long strained over wartime history and trade issues and suggested resuming talks without preconditions. But the response from Japan has been lukewarm so far.

After his predecessor Yoshihide Suga left office without holding a summit with Moon, Fumio Kishida, the new Japanese leader, has repeated that the Korean government should come up with a solution to resolve the issue of the recurring compensation claims by Korean victims of Japan’s wartime atrocities.

Moon and Kishida held their first phone conversation last month but they just reaffirmed their different views.

The last time the leaders of Korea and Japan met together was in 2019 when President Xi Jinping of China hosted the trilateral summit with Moon and then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Aside from the chilled Seoul-Tokyo relations, Xi’s absence on the global stage is also an issue making observers here skeptical about the Seoul meeting being held within the year. They point to the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in February as the most likely occasion for the three leaders to meet in person.

The Chinese president has not left his country for nearly two years, largely out of concern with COVID-19. He was scheduled to make a state visit to Korea last year but the plans have been delayed almost indefinitely.