Korea-Japan-China Meeting: 'Issues of Dissension Have Multiplied'

The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea met on Sunday, November 26, in Busan, Korea. A trilateral summit that has not been held for a long time and which aims to re-establish cooperation between these states that have not always got along well. Antoine Bondaz, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FSR), explains.

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Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawae, her South Korean counterpart Park Jin, and Wang Yi, in charge of Chinese diplomacy, in Busan on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. AP - Ahn Young-joon

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After the meeting – a first since 2019 – between South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and his Chinese and Japanese counterparts, Yoko Kamikawa and Wang Yi, in Busan, researcher Antoine Bondaz comments on the stated objective of this meeting.


We have relaunched, he says, the process of trilateral discussion, a process that was initiated in the mid and late 2000s and which concluded, in particular, in the early 2010s, with the creation of a secretariat for trilateral cooperation.


In recent years, this secretariat "has not been of much use," he says. But in his view, this meeting reflects a desire for rapprochement between "three countries of North-East Asia, which are three economic heavyweights among the top 10 of the world economy".

They decided to resume their talks even though "the subjects of dissension have multiplied in recent years, not so much between Japan and South Korea, which have grown considerably closer since the election and coming to power of President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul, but the differences between China and Japan on the one hand, and between China and South Korea on the other.


Everyone has a card to play

These "irritants" between China and its neighbours relate in particular to territorial issues, Antoine Bondaz points out. "Between China and Japan, about the Senkaku and Diaoyu islands, and to a lesser extent, the Ieodo islands and rocks between China and Korea.


He also mentioned the economy, the desire of both Seoul and Tokyo to "further protect their domestic market, with China increasingly competing with them, especially in sectors where they were almost hegemonic, whether it is the shipyard, whether it is the automotive industry, whether it is electronics".

Worse, there are strategic issues, "the deterioration of the situation in the Taiwan Strait, in the South China Sea", which worry two countries "for whom maintaining freedom of navigation and the ability to trade, particularly as far as Europe, is extremely important".

In the eyes of the researcher, everyone has a card to play. On the one hand, "Japan and South Korea can coordinate with each other, which they did not do before, to carry more weight against China", and on the other hand, in Beijing, "there is the desire to prevent the trilateral cooperation between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, for the time being, from being strengthened too much, and therefore to try to slow down this rapprochement".

Read alsoBusan: China, South Korea and Japan highlight regional issues in the run-up to a tripartite summit

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