China-S Korea-Japan unite to tackle North - GulfToday

China-S Korea-Japan unite to tackle North

South Korea's deputy foreign minister for political affairs, Chung Byung-won, Japan's Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Funakoshi Takehiro, and China's Assistant Foreign Minister, Nong Rong, pose for photographs during their meeting in Seoul, South Korea. Reuters

Top South Korean, Japanese and Chinese officials pose for photographs during their meeting in Seoul, South Korea. Reuters

China, South Korea and Japan are uneasy neighbours in the eastern corner of Asia, with each one carrying historical baggage concerning the other. The three countries belong to a category of highly vibrant economies, with unmatched strengths. Of the three, South Korea and Japan belong to the American camp, and China is firmly in the communist bloc. But there is the realisation on the part of South Korea and Japan that China is an attractive market. Japan realises the importance of China much more than South Korea, and it has established close strategic economic ties. Despite China’s support for its arch rival, the communist North Korea, South Korea too recognises the economic importance of China. And China is wooing South Korea and Japan to restrict American influence in the region, though unsuccessfully. So when representatives of the three countries met at Seoul on September 26 and tried to revive the trilateral relationship, what was on show was a play of geo-economics and geopolitics. South Korea was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Chung Byung-Won, Japan by Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takehiro Funakoshi, and China by Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Nong Rong. South Korea said that there will be a summit-level meeting of the three countries sometime in December as Seoul plays hosts this year to the trilateral meetings. It was in 2008 that three countries had decided to hold annual summit meetings, but none was held after 2019.

China has been worried by the increasing closeness between South Korea and Japan, which have had bitter relations arising out of Japanese occupation of South Korea. Japan had been trying to make amends for its colonial past but the South Koreans have been unable to put behind the bitter memories. But in August 2022, the two countries had concluded a historic agreement between the United States, South Korea and Japan, which was based on defence and economic security. The Chinese would not want to be isolated, and they are keen to revive and strengthen the China-South Korea-Japan trilateral. According to South Korean sources, the Chinese have been proactive in reviving the trilateral since China-South Korea relations touched a low over the 2017 deployment of American anti-missile system, THAAD, in South Korea. A South Korean official speaking on condition of anonymity to news agency Reuters said, “I’m sure there should be some discomfort on their side regarding out increasingly close trilateral security partnerships with the United States and Japan.”

According to US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace scholar Tong Zhao China would want increased communication and dialogue on security and defence matters with Seoul and Tokyo. South Korea and Japan too want to strengthen communications with China because they hope that Beijing could contain North Korea’s missile programmes targeting South Korea and Japan. There is need on both sides to be engaged with each other. China worded its support for the trilateral tie-up in general terms though it is clear that it knows the strategic need for it. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We unanimously believe that carrying out cooperation is in the common interests of the three parties. We should work together to strengthen practical cooperation …and make new contributions to regional peace, stability, and prosperity.” The three countries realise the mutual necessity of forming a fruitful partnership, and this could in turn provide the much needed equilibrium in the Indo-Pacific, which the United States wants to shape as a counter-weight to the dominating presence of China in the region. It is the replay of the old balance of power politics on the global scene, and the US-China tussle is taking different forms, and it looks like that intersecting, and not exclusive, formations like the US-South Korea-Japan and China-South Korea-Japan trilateral tie-ups are the order of the day.

Related articles