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Will leaders of South Korea, Japan meet on sidelines of G7 Summit?

President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga / Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga / Yonhap

By Nam Hyun-woo

Seoul and Tokyo are seeking to arrange a bilateral meeting between President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on the sidelines of the G7 Summit being held this weekend in the United Kingdom., in an effort to improve the chilly relations between the two countries.

According to Cheong Wa Dae, Thursday, Moon will depart for the U.K. Friday (KST) to attend the G7 Summit which will take place in Cornwall from Friday to Sunday (local time). While attending official sessions there, Moon will have bilateral meetings with the leaders of the U.K., Australia and the European Union.

So far, the presidential office has not confirmed any preparations for an official meeting between Moon and Suga or an official trilateral meeting that would include U.S. President Joe Biden; and did not announce any get together involving the three leaders in Moon's official G7 itinerary.

However, there does seem to be a chance that some form of meeting will taking place. A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We are open to cooperation between Korea, the U.S. and Japan," and hinted at a "pull-aside" meeting, saying the leaders "may talk casually while standing, or sitting on a sofa."

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also left the door open for a trilateral meeting during the summit.

"We don't have a trilateral scheduled between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, but I will tell you there's a possibility for virtually anything in these small spaces where you have just a ― you know, in this case, 10 or 12 leaders in person there in Cornwall," Sullivan said in a press briefing Monday.

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at Cornwall Airport Newquay, near Newquay, the U.K., ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall, Wednesday. AP-Yonhap
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Air Force One at Cornwall Airport Newquay, near Newquay, the U.K., ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall, Wednesday. AP-Yonhap

If Moon and Suga do meet during the G7 Summit, it will be their first face-to-face meeting ― and also the first meeting between the leaders of Korea and Japan since December 2019.

Relations between Korea and Japan have deteriorated significantly in recent years as the two countries clash over their shared history and territorial issues. In 2019, Japan restricted exports of key industrial materials to Korea, in apparent retaliation to a Korean Supreme Court ruling that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Koreans who were forced to work for them before and during World War II.

Recently, the two countries have clashed over Tokyo's decision to release contaminated water from the disabled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean, and a map produced by the Tokyo Olympic Games organizer showing Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo as Japanese territory.

If Moon, Suga and Biden meet on the sidelines of the G7 Summit, chances are high that they will talk about the U.S. campaign to contain China, as Washington expects Seoul and Tokyo to play greater roles in building a U.S.-centric global supply chain. Also, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons ambitions could be included in their discussions.

"Biden has been stressing that Korea and Japan are lynchpins in the anti-China campaign in Northeast Asia," said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University's Department of North Korea Studies. "However, Korea's role as a guest country at the G7 Summit is limited. Thus, there won't be joint statements or other official announcements from the three leaders."

Against this backdrop, the Nippon News Network, a Japanese TV news outlet, reported that Moon is considering visiting Japan for next month's Tokyo Olympics and "hopes" to hold a summit with Suga.

There have been expectations that Moon will visit Japan during the Olympics and capitalize on the sporting event as a vehicle to facilitate talks with Pyongyang, should the North send athletes to the Summer Games. However, the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that North Korea's qualification places had been reallocated after the regime announced in April that it would not attend the event.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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