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S. Korea seeks concrete results from summit with US, Japan

Leaders likely to discuss N. Korea’s threats, Fukushima wastewater release

By Choi Si-young

Published : July 31, 2023 - 15:32

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Clockwise from top left: The US, Japanese, South Korean flags. (123rf) Clockwise from top left: The US, Japanese, South Korean flags. (123rf)

South Korea is discussing a joint statement on expanding trilateral security and economic ties with the US and Japan during a summit at Camp David in Maryland on Aug. 18, according to South Korea’s presidential office.

The meeting, which US President Joe Biden will host to rally the two allies against China’s influence and North Korea’s aggression, is the first of its kind and comes at a crucial time when the US-led coalition is enjoying friendlier ties prompted by the recent Seoul-Tokyo thaw over historical disputes involving Japan’s colonial occupation.

“Details are still being discussed,” a senior official at Yoon’s office said, referring to how the three leaders will announce the summit agreement. Yoon and his Japanese counterpart are also expected to hold separate talks on the sidelines.

The three leaders will be able to “wholly invest themselves in the pressing agenda on the table and make the best of their time there,” another senior official at the presidential office said, underscoring the seriousness of the gathering at the US presidential retreat in the mountains of western Maryland. Biden has not hosted any other world leaders there yet.

“The three leaders will discuss expanding trilateral cooperation across the Indo-Pacific and beyond – including to address the continued threat posed by the DPRK,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The isolated country is doubling down on its missile tests.

Promoting a rules-based international order and economic prosperity will be the priority, Jean-Pierre added, referring to China’s growing influence in the region, where it claims as its own Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that Washington supports.

Discussing fighting misinformation about Japan’s plans to release radioactive water from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant could also be a topic, according to Japan’s Sankei Shimbun on Monday. Tokyo will start releasing the wastewater into the Pacific Ocean this summer after filtering it.

The newspaper did not directly name any sources, but referred to a briefing from Japan’s Foreign Ministry last week that said Tokyo would work with the international community including Seoul and Washington to fight off “malicious fake news.”

Two weeks before the briefing, Japan called on China to look at the wastewater discharge plans in a “scientific manner” at a meeting held between Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi. Beijing is one of the most vocal critics of the discharge, contending the health and environment risks are still high.

But it remains unclear whether the three-way summit would likely address the topic in depth, since Washington and Seoul might place more priority on other issues. The topic itself has little to do exclusively with the US and South Korea.

Choi Eun-mi, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said South Korea could use the opportunity to draw wider global attention to the issue.

“If a joint statement even remotely discusses how to deal with so-called ‘fake news’ about the wastewater, we could also push for a line in the statement clearly evident of growing concerns about the discharge plans themselves,” Choi said of ways Seoul can hold Tokyo accountable for the release and its aftermath.

South Korea was instrumental in bringing about a thaw in ties with Japan recently, and that alone should be enough reason for the US to back Seoul on such a proposal, according to Choi.