WASHINGTON: A joint press conference in Washington between the deputy foreign ministers of Japan and South Korean was cancelled at the last minute because of “differences” between the two US allies, said US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who had been due to host the event.
“As has been the case for some time, there are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that are continuing to be resolved,” Sherman said.
“And one of those differences which is unrelated to today’s meeting, has led to the change in format for today’s press availability,” she said, standing alone on the podium where she had been scheduled to be joined by Choi Jong Kun of South Korea and Mori Takeo of Japan.
She did not give any details on what that “difference” entailed.
But Japan did say why it objected to the press conference at the last minute: it said that on Tuesday (Nov 18) the commissioner-general of South Korea’s National Police Agency visited islets that are claimed by Japan and administered by South Korea.
Japan calls them Takeshima and says they are part of its Shimane Prefecture. South Korea calls them Dokdo.
This was the first time in 12 years that a commissioner-general of the National Police Agency landed on the islets, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, quoting South Korean media.
A Japanese Embassy spokesman in Washington said the islets are “indisputably an inherent part of the territory of Japan” and that Japan lodged a protest with South Korea over the visit by the police official.
“Under these circumstances, we have decided that it is inappropriate to hold a joint press conference,” the spokesman said.
The trilateral meeting between diplomats from the three allies did take place, behind closed doors.
Sherman said the talks had been “very constructive,” which, she noted, “demonstrates exactly why the trilateral format with the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea is so important and powerful.”
Tokyo and Seoul have had strained relations for decades due to Japan’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. In 2019, South Korea threatened to break a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, amid diplomatic and trade tensions.
That threat alarmed the United States, which feared that the tensions between its two closest Asian allies could have repercussions for regional security.
During the three-way meeting, the deputy ministers reaffirmed their “shared commitment” to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, said Sherman, who renewed President Joe Biden’s offer of dialogue with North Korea, which so far remains unanswered.
“The United States does not harbor hostile intent for the DPRK. We believe that diplomacy and dialogue are essential” to ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons, said Sherman, referring to North Korea by its official title.
She added that the three allies oppose “activities that undermine, destabilize or threaten the rules-based international order” in the Indo-Pacific region and in the Straits of Taiwan, a clear warning to China.