Japan, the United States and South Korea plan to hold a foreign ministerial meeting Friday in Bangkok, with Washington likely to play a mediating role in an effort to defuse tensions between the two key U.S. allies, sources familiar with Tokyo-Seoul ties said Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo may urge Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha to exercise self-restraint in taking actions that would further deteriorate ties between the Asian countries, which have fallen to their lowest point in decades over wartime history and trade policy issues, the sources said.
It remains unclear whether U.S. mediation efforts will affect Japan’s planned Cabinet decision on Friday to remove South Korea from its list of countries allowed under preferential arrangements to buy products that could be diverted for military use.
There are no indications that Japan will change its position. On Wednesday, trade minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters that Japan will carry out necessary procedures as planned.
Separately, Kono and Kang will hold a bilateral meeting Thursday on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related foreign ministerial meetings in the Thai capital, according to South Korean Foreign Ministry officials.
In the trilateral talks, the three ministers are expected to affirm coordination in response to North Korea’s launches of short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday and last Thursday.
Tokyo and Seoul, for their part, are likely to throw their support behind denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Pompeo said earlier he will hold trilateral talks with Kono and Kang in Bangkok, but he did not provide details.
Speaking to journalists Tuesday en route to Thailand, Pompeo said he will “encourage” his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to “find a path forward.”
“They’re both working closely with us on our efforts to denuclearize North Korea,” he said. “So if we can help them find a good place for each of their two countries, we certainly find that important to the United States, indeed, as well as to each of those two countries.”
Also on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported the United States has urged Japan and South Korea to consider signing a “standstill agreement” on diplomatic and trade disputes to buy time for negotiations.
The standstill proposal would not resolve any of the disputes between Japan and South Korea but “would forestall any further action for a set period of time,” allowing for talks to take place, it said, quoting a senior U.S. official.
The length of the proposed agreement had not been determined, the official was quoted as saying.
Tokyo’s planned removal of South Korea from the so-called white list follows its tightening of export controls in early July on some South Korea-bound materials used in making chips and displays.
Seoul argues that the move was retaliation over South Korean court decisions ordering Japanese firms to compensate for wartime labor.
Tokyo insists that the planned removal is meant to address security concerns and compensation issues related to its former colonial rule over what is now South Korea were settled in a 1965 bilateral agreement “finally and completely.”