South Korea, China and Japan are unlikely to hold a trilateral summit in February as was originally planned amid a complicated diplomatic landscape involving the three Asian neighbors, a Seoul official said Wednesday.
Japan tried to host the summit in December, but it was delayed, as China didn't respond to Tokyo's proposed timetable. Ever since, negotiations have been under way to hold the summit in the middle of February.
"South Korea, China and Japan have made efforts to arrange a meeting in February, but things have made it difficult to set the timetable," a foreign ministry official told reporters on the condition of anonymity. "Given the time required for making preparations, it seems to be hard to hold the summit next month."
China's reservations were reportedly the reason the second attempt failed.
The three-way summit was held for the first time in 1999 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Plus Three meeting.
Each had taken turns in hosting the meeting since 2008 to bolster cooperation on a range of regional and global issues.
The summit resumed in Seoul in late 2015 after it had been suspended for two years due to long-standing historical and territorial feuds.
The official emphasized that Korea played a leading role in restarting the suspended talks and it will continue to cooperate with the other two countries to hold the summit "as soon as possible."
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho June-hyuck (Yonhap)
Drawing on South Korea-Japan tensions over a girl statue recently installed in front of the Japanese consulate in the South Korean port city of Busan, the official said Seoul is looking for ways to settle the issue internally and in consultation with Tokyo.
Stepping up its protest of the statue symbolizing Korean women sexually enslaved by the imperialist Japanese Army during World War II, Tokyo called in its chief envoy to Seoul in a show of diplomatic remonstration on Jan. 9.
"Seoul is currently in discussions with Tokyo under the stance that installing (a statue) in front of any country's diplomatic mission is not desirable from the perspective of international custom," the official said. "Also internally, Seoul is reviewing what measures are possible."
He added that there have so far been no signs of Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine returning to his embassy.
About China's growing retaliatory trade bans on South Korean goods, the official said the government is reviewing legal actions in response which include bringing the case to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In protest of Seoul's plan to deploy a U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, Beijing has effectively banned the local performances of South Korean entertainers and stopped imports of a slew of South Korean trade goods.
"Several counteractions are being discussed in collaboration with other ministries," the foreign ministry official said, indicating the measures include actions in accordance with international law and even referring the case to the WTO.
Yonhap News Agency's English service previously reported the foreign ministry's review of bringing China's action to the attention of the WTO. (Yonhap)