Asia Minute: Busy Diplomatic Week in Northeast Asia

Dec 24, 2019

For most Americans, this is a slower than usual week at work. But in the world of diplomacy, this is a busy time — especially in northeast Asia, where the heads of government of Japan, South Korea and China are all meeting this week.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have spoken for about ten minutes over the last 15 months. That was on the sidelines of last month’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting.

The talks are taking place in Chengdu – in China’s southwest. Both leaders are there for a tri-lateral meeting that includes Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Abe and Moon have already stopped in Beijing on this trip – meeting separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, Xi told Abe that Japan and China should not see each other as a threat, and should continue close communication.

When President Moon met with Xi, the focus was on North Korea — stressing the importance of the Beijing government in relations with Pyonyang.

Relations between Japan and South Korea are at their lowest in decades. A dispute over wartime forced labor has escalated to include issues of trade and security. The timing of the three-way meeting puts China in the unusual position of playing a diplomatic role between the two closest U.S. allies in Asia.

China has other interests, of course, near the top of its current agenda is drafting a free trade agreement that would include Japan and South Korea, but not the United States.