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Resumption Of Diplomatic Talks Between South Korea, Japan, And China: A Balancing Act Amid Geopolitical Tensions

Efforts to rekindle diplomatic engagement between South Korea, Japan, and China, including the potential visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Seoul and an agreement to revive a trilateral leaders' summit, underscore China's bid to counter Washington's export restrictions on advanced technologies.

Oct 01, 20233877 Shares90159 Views
Efforts to rekindle diplomatic engagement between South Korea, Japan, and China, including the potential visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Seoul and an agreement to revive a trilateral leaders' summit, underscore China's bid to counter Washington's export restrictions on advanced technologies.
These developments also indicate a mutual desire by Seoul and Tokyo to reinitiate conversations with Beijing on contentious issues, the experts suggested.
"The real impetus behind the resumption of talks among the three countries at the vice-ministerial level last week primarily emanates from the Chinese side," said Daniel Russel, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Obama administration, in a phone conversation with VOA.
Russel emphasized that China's efforts to ease tensions with South Korea and Japan stem from Beijing's concerns over the strengthening ties between Seoul and Tokyo, the two countries' enhanced trilateral relationship with the United States, and China's economic slowdown since the beginning of the year.
"The Chinese are alarmed by the trend of Japan and South Korea drawing closer to the U.S. and European nations in limiting China's access to cutting-edge technologies," Russel explained. "China seeks to discourage South Korea from following the U.S. in imposing additional restrictions on semiconductor exports to China."
On the other hand, some observers believe that the motivation to restart diplomatic engagement emanates from South Korea.
"The South Koreans are motivated by the fact that China is a significant neighbor and a massive market for them," said Dennis Wilder, a former China analyst with the CIA, in a phone interview with VOA.
Wilder asserted that the agreement to revive the trilateral leaders' summit represents a natural progression for Seoul and Tokyo after they have improved bilateral relations and significantly strengthened their partnership with the U.S.
"What South Korea and Japan aspire to achieve is to stabilize their relationship with Beijing and maintain strong economic ties with China without making concessions on the strategic front," Wilder remarked.
During a meeting with South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo in Hangzhou on September 23, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his serious consideration of visiting South Korea, which would mark his first visit to Seoul since 2014 if it materializes.
Recent reports from Bloomberg News suggest that South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol's office is actively working to facilitate Xi's visit.
Despite Yoon's commitment to enhancing cooperation with the U.S. over the past year, some experts perceive him as "less of a China hawk than widely believed."
"Yoon has always been willing to engage with China, provided that such engagement is conducted with a suitable level of respect and without preconditions," noted Joel Atkinson, an expert in East Asian affairs at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea.
Atkinson added that the more Xi Jinping is willing to compromise, such as considering a visit to Seoul before Yoon visits Beijing, the more likely it becomes for Yoon to participate in the trilateral leaders' summit.
Apart from the potential visit by Xi Jinping to Seoul, South Korea, Japan, and China have agreed to arrange a leaders' summit for the three nations "as early as possible," following a meeting of deputy foreign ministers from the three countries in Seoul.
During a daily press briefing on the same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated that senior officials from the three countries engaged in "in-depth discussions" regarding the gradual resumption of trilateral cooperation.
"The three parties have agreed to hold a foreign ministers' meeting in the coming months and maintain communication on scheduling a leaders' meeting at the earliest mutually convenient opportunity," Wang explained.
Wilder speculated that Seoul and Tokyo would likely seek Beijing's insights into North Korea's government and its policies, including missile tests and nuclear advancements. They may also want to discuss China's perspective on the recent rapprochement between North Korea and Russia.
In addition to addressing sensitive geopolitical matters, the three countries are expected to discuss economic ties, particularly the impact of Washington's export restrictions on advanced semiconductor technologies.
"I imagine the Chinese would be eager to obtain assurances that South Korea and Japan will not overly restrict these technologies," Wilder predicted.
For Seoul and Tokyo, Wilder anticipates their hope to receive assurances from Beijing about access to Chinese markets for their businesses and guarantees of fair treatment for their businesspeople in China, including the prevention of arbitrary detentions.
As tensions rise due to the growing military threats from North Korea and China's frequent military maneuvers around Taiwan, leaders from South Korea, Japan, and the United States solidified their trilateral securitypartnership during a summit at Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat, in August.
China expressed dissatisfaction with the statement from the Camp David Summit, which criticized its assertive behavior in the South China Sea. In April, claims by Yoon Suk Yeol that tensions near Taiwan were caused by attempts to change the status quo through force led to a diplomatic dispute between Seoul and Beijing.
Russel, who now serves as the Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, suggested that the efforts of South Korea, Japan, and China to renew exchanges between their leaders can prevent existing problems from worsening.
"We are currently facing a much more problematic, if not perilous, situation, primarily because there has been virtually no real engagement," Russel observed. "The trilateral summit could reestablish lines of communication between Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo, potentially addressing some of the longstanding issues."
Despite attempts to resume diplomatic exchanges with Beijing, Russel believes that these efforts will not jeopardize the security partnership among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington.
"I am confident that the Japanese and Korean leaders will offer some reassurances to China, emphasizing that their alliance with the U.S. and their trilateral coordination are not hostile actions aimed at containing, suppressing, or undermining China," he concluded.
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