China, Japan and South Korea to highlight unity amid North Korea moves

By Reuters   May 8, 2018 | 05:28 pm PT
China, Japan and South Korea to highlight unity amid North Korea moves
After years of isolation and sanctions prompted by its missile and nuclear programme, Pyongyang's relationship with the outside world has rapidly warmed, with a historic summit last week between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in. Photo by KCNA via KNS/AFP
As Trump steps up trade pressure on China and Japan, the talks could improve regional unity.

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea meet in Tokyo on Wednesday in a powerful gesture of solidarity against the backdrop of historic diplomatic moves by North Korea and a push for the isolated country to give up its nuclear weapons.

Last held in Seoul in 2015, the three-way summit has regularly brought together the neighbors, but this week’s gathering comes amid an unusual period of calm for ties often beset by territorial and historical disputes.

As U.S. President Donald Trump steps up trade pressure on China and Japan, the talks could provide an opportunity for improving regional unity, said Katsuhiko Nakamura, an official of a private think-tank in the Japanese capital.

“It’s meaningful to show that there’s a united front like this in Asia, that there are different alliances in the world than those that have traditionally dominated,” said Nakamura, a deputy executive director of the Asia Pacific Forum.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also hold separate meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is making a state visit, the first by a Chinese premier since 2010.

North Korea will inevitably figure in the talks that follow Moon’s historic meeting with the North’s Kim Jong-un last month, and ahead of an expected summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim.

China has said regional cooperation is set to dominate the talks.

“Given the North Korean situation, they will really emphasize cooperation as East Asian nations,” said Nakamura.

South Korea and Japan share concern about U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, whose numbers Trump has threatened to cut, while China and Japan are set to strengthen economic ties by signing a currency swap deal during the visit.

Though tension lingers between South Korea and Japan over the issue of Korean women forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during World War Two, larger regional issues are pushing this to the background.

As the meeting’s host, Abe has a chance to project himself in a key leadership role, drawing attention away from his domestic woes, ranging from suspected cronyism scandals and falling support rates to calls for his finance minister to quit.

This is especially true in the context of Japan’s fears that it may be left out of North Korean negotiations, with Abe and Kim yet to set up a summit.

“Having the summit here allows Abe to put forth an impression of international leadership,” said Nakamura.

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