First Vice Foreign Minister Chung Jong-kun arrives at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Sunday, for his trip to Washington. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun on Sunday left for Washington for talks with his US and Japanese counterparts, with North Korea’s nuclear issue and the global supply chain disruption expected to top the agenda.
Choi will be in Washington through Friday, during which he is scheduled to hold a three-way meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo on Wednesday. The three envoys last met for a trilateral session in Tokyo in July.
The three officials are expected to discuss how best to restart the stalled nuclear talks with the North, following up on their last meeting where they underscored tighter cooperation among the allies in dealing with the North’s nuclear problem.
Since then, the North has upped the ante with a series of weapons launches in September and October, which included a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched ballistic missile, a hypersonic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
The North’s resumption of weapon tests is a sign that Pyongyang continues to enhance its military capabilities amid the long-stalled denuclearization talks with the US. It also came as Seoul and Washington have been stepping up diplomacy to nudge Pyongyang back to talks.
The three-way meeting also comes amid Washington’s focus on addressing ongoing global supply chain disruptions, specifically the semiconductor shortage, amid the intensifying rivalry between the US and China.
All eyes are on whether Washington will further push its key Asian allies to join it in its push to reshape the global supply chain and be less dependent on China. South Korea’s delicate balancing act between its main security ally, the US, and its biggest trade partner, China, could be put to the test as the rivalry heats up, observers say.
As US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to hold their first virtual summit on Monday, the three could also potentially discuss the results and details of the summit.
On Tuesday, Choi plans to hold a separate meeting with Sherman, to discuss bilateral and regional issues. Seoul’s proposal to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War is likely to be part of the discussion.
The ministry said Choi is also slated to hold a separate session with Japan’s Mori, though the exact schedule hasn’t been confirmed.
It will mark the first in-person high-level talks between the two neighbors, since Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, took office last month.
The ties between Seoul and Tokyo have been badly strained over historic disputes rooted in Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula that have morphed into an ongoing economic feud.
With the two sides still remaining miles apart on key issues -- including the forced labor issue and the so-called “comfort women” -- with Japan insisting Seoul should come up with appropriate action, no breakthrough appears to be within sight, observers say.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org