The Korea Herald


Yoon to resume diplomatic activity via 3-way summit with Japan, China

Trilateral summit likely to shy away from sensitive topics centering around East Asia

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : May 23, 2024 - 15:35

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Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, speaks during a briefing held at the presidential office in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap) Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, speaks during a briefing held at the presidential office in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol is poised to resume his diplomatic activity with Seoul ready to host a forthcoming three-way summit with Japan and China on Monday, according to Yoon's office Thursday.

Before the trilateral summit, Yoon and Chinese Premier Li Qiang will sit down for bilateral talks Sunday, followed by in-person talks between Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the same day.

Monday's trilateral meeting will be the first dialogue between the leaders of the three East Asian neighbors in more than four years, since the 8th one in Chengdu, China, in December 2019. South Korea is currently the rotating chair of the standalone summit, which began regular meetings in 2008.

All eyes are on whether the trilateral dialogue could reverse course as geopolitical tensions in East Asia are now at play in line with the competition between the United States and China.

Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the presidential National Security Office, said the three countries on Monday will agree to join hands to spur people-to-people exchanges in the region, fight climate change, boost trade and economic cooperation, address population aging, implement digital transformation and manage disasters.

The discussions of the three leaders will be enshrined in the joint statement, Kim added.

"The summit will mark a watershed moment where the three countries of South Korea, Japan and China completely restore and normalize the mechanism for a trilateral cooperation," Kim said. "The summit will also serve as a momentum for practical and future-oriented cooperation that would benefit the people of the three countries."

It will follow Yoon's two bilateral talks on Sunday. Yoon is looking to discuss with Li, who is visiting South Korea for the first time since being appointed Chinese premier in March 2023, plans to boost trade cooperation and investment between the two countries. Also, Yoon and Kishida will explore ways to enhance their countermeasures against North Korea's regional security threats and their cooperation with the United States.

According to Kim, Yoon spearheaded the process of having the summit materialize by respectively meeting Li on the margins of the ASEAN plus three summit in Indonesia, and Kishida on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting in India, both in September.

In November, the foreign ministers of the three countries held in-person talks in Busan and agreed to hold a trilateral summit this year.

Before Sunday's summit, the three East Asian countries were in a politically hectic period earlier this year. Lai Ching-te was elected as the president of Taiwan in January, China's annual Two Sessions of its top legislative body and an advisory body took place in March and South Korea's ruling bloc suffered a defeat in the general election in April.

However, the trilateral summit is likely to shy away from sensitive topics by centering around the region.

A senior official of Yoon's office said on condition of anonymity that Monday's talks would "unlikely lead to an uncluttered three-way agreement regarding North Korea issues, the regime's denuclearization and inter-Korean relations," given the time constraints.

The trilateral summit will "unlikely touch upon the AUKUS talks," or a defense and security partnership between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which Seoul and Tokyo have expressed their interest in joining, and which Beijing protested.

The official added that the summit "will not be influenced" after China summoned South Korean and Japanese diplomats Wednesday due to the presence of the two countries' representatives at Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration on Monday.

Following the trilateral summit, Kim said Yoon will receive the President of the United Arab Emirates Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan May 28-29, as he is to be on a two-day state visit to South Korea next week for the first time as the UAE President.

Yoon and Al Nahyan will discuss ways to upgrade the special strategic partnership in terms of clean energy, nuclear power, the defense industry and investment, Kim said.

The meeting of the two leaders will become the first in 16 months since they last met during Yoon's state visit to the UAE in January 2023.

Kim added that Yoon will host the Korea-Africa Summit on June 5 and 6 to push South Korea's strategic relations with the Global South.