S.Korea seeks revived China-Japan summit to shore up ties

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) greeting Japanese PM Fumio Kishida at the trilateral summit at Camp David on Aug 18 as US President Joe Biden looks on. - AP

SEOUL (Bloomberg): South Korea’s ambassador to Japan said "high-level” talks are underway for a three-nation summit with China poised to happen this year, and it wouldn’t affect ties with the US.

Those discussions are going well, Yun Dukmin, Seoul’s envoy to Japan said in an interview. There may be a "Camp David effect” that prompted China to reach out to its neighbours, Yun said, adding that a summit with Beijing wouldn’t hurt relations with Washington after the historic meeting with the US.

Senior officials from the three Asian nations are set to meet in Seoul on Sept 26.

South Korea is working to revive three-way summits among Japan and China that have stalled since 2019 due initially to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Beijing has been angered by President Joe Biden’s historic summit in August at the Camp David presidential retreat with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, saying it’s a deliberate attempt to sow discord among the Asian neighbors.

"The relationship between Japan and South Korea has progressed so rapidly that it’s become an environment that China hasn’t experienced in the last 10 years or so,” Yun said on Wednesday.

"It would be better for the stability of the region if the neighboring countries cooperate and get along well rather than confronting each other like this.”

Appointed to his post about two months after President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May 2022, Yun said ties between South Korea and Japan are starkly different from when he started. Relations were fraught due to a dispute over compensation for Korean workers during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the peninsula.

In March, Yoon removed a roadblock in relations when Seoul dropped its demand that Japanese firms compensate Koreans conscripted to work at Japanese mines and factories, but would create its own fund for them​.

The breakthrough to end a feud that had disrupted ties on everything from trade to security drew praise from Biden, who’s been trying to convince the two US allies to present a more united front against China and North Korea.

Biden has sought support from partners to stymie Beijing’s access to advanced semiconductors. Japan restricted exports of some chipmaking tools, following similar moves by the US and the Netherlands. South Korea has been a bit hesitant as major companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc. depend on China as a market and manufacturing site for their memory chips.

The ambassador said it may be just a matter of time before semiconductor makers in China move up the value chain and eventually surpass what’s made by South Korean giants in the country. He said South Korean mobile phone makers, department store operators and automobile firms have all seen their market share slide in China as the domestic industries advanced.

"We’re still very much dependent on China, but a surprising number of companies have moved out of China,” Yun said. "We can’t completely abandon the Chinese market, but overall, the Chinese market is not going to stay open continuously. So in that sense, these next few years are a very important time for Korea’s semiconductor companies.”

Meanwhile, relations with Japan have progressed very rapidly and this will cause a major shift in the regional strategic landscape, Yun said.

"When I first arrived here last year, the whole Japanese society was very, very cold toward Korea, to the point where I wondered if it was possible for them to be so cold,” he said.

Yun is looking to use the current momentum to forge another declaration with Japan as they did a quarter century ago to lock in improved ties, which could keep trade flows stable in the face of political tensions.

South Korean companies are starting to invest in Japan again, he said. This includes small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as giants such as Samsung, which is looking at an R&D center in the greater Tokyo region.

Yun said security cooperation with Japan and the US is set to expand as they face nuclear threats from the likes of North Korea.

Biden has assured Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that the US nuclear policy known as extended deterrence remains in place. The strategy refers to exerting a force strong enough that it convinces an adversary it can’t achieve its military and political goals through aggression.

North Korea in the past few years has tested a barrage of missiles designed to hit South Korea and Japan, as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to deliver a warhead to the US mainland. That could raise some difficult questions for Washington, the ambassador said.

"There’s this question of whether or not the US would retaliate against Pyongyang at the expense of New York if Tokyo or Seoul were attacked,” he said.

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South Korea , China , Japan , summit


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