South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for meetings with her Chinese and Japanese counterparts over three-way cooperation and a possible summit among their leaders.
Her trip drew keen attention as she plans to meet bilaterally with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Wednesday afternoon amid heightened tensions between the two countries over trade and history.
Their meeting comes at a delicate time when Seoul is mulling whether to renew a bilateral military intelligence-sharing accord with the deadline for its decision set for Saturday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (Left) and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi shake hands during their bilateral meeting held in Beijing on Aug. 20, 2019. (Yonhap)
Shortly before departure, Kang said that Seoul is still reviewing whether to retain the pact, which is to be renewed automatically each year unless either side expresses an intent to terminate it.
"There isn't anything decided yet (on the pact)," she told reporters at Gimpo International Airport. "I am on my way there as I am prepared to actively explain our position related to Japan's export restrictions."
Tensions also remain high as Japan's decision earlier this month to remove South Korea from a list of favored trade partners is set to go into effect Aug. 28. Seoul sees the measure as political retaliation for last year's South Korean Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.
South Korea has been calling for a diplomatic solution while denouncing Japan's export restrictions as running afoul of the principles of free trade, which Tokyo has long championed and benefited from.
In his Liberation Day speech last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he would "gladly join hands" with Japan should it choose the path of dialogue and cooperation -- remarks largely seen as an olive branch to the neighboring country.
Hours after her arrival in Beijing, Kang and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met for an hour to discuss regional issues, including North Korea.
"China, Japan and South Korea should cooperate to enhance trilateral relations for peace and stability in the region," Wang said, expressing hope for possible summits of their leaders later this year.
Kang said she hopes to have discussions on how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table as soon as possible to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The trilateral meeting, the first such gathering since Aug. 2016, is slated to take place Wednesday morning.
During the talks, Kang, Wang and Kono are expected to discuss the possibility of arranging a tripartite summit among Moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The last trilateral summit was held in Tokyo in May last year.
The foreign ministers' talks could also touch on the Korean peace process, including ongoing efforts to relaunch nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
During their impromptu talks at the inter-Korean border on June 30, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume working-level nuclear talks. But the talks have not been held amid the North's angry reactions to the South Korea-US military exercise.
The three-way meeting of the top diplomats was launched in 2007 to promote tripartite cooperation in various areas, including regional security and business. (Yonhap)