Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers to hold sideline talks in Beijing

Japan’s foreign minister will meet his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting with China in Beijing

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Japan’s foreign minister will meet his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting with China in Beijing today. Chinese diplomats will be hoping to exert their growing regional influence to arrest a decline in Japanese-Korean relations.

Ties between the two East Asian countries have deteriorated over historic tensions, which re-surfaced last month as a spat over export controls intensified. In response to an adverse South Korean court decision, Japanese authorities have restricted exports of three key materials since July. This further escalated last week, when Tokyo excluded South Korea from its “white list” of trusted trade partners.

With Washington largely unresponsive to Seoul’s request for diplomatic assistance due to fears of driving a wedge between both of its allies, especially Japan, Beijing is expected to try to assert itself as a mediator today. While South Korea may perceive Chinese mediation favourably—partly because both countries share a history of Japanese occupation—Japan is less likely to accept such a role for Beijing. Apart from historical animosity between Japan and China, this is fed by growing political tensions over Chinese militarisation of the South China Sea and a fear that third-party mediation may force Japan into concessions.

Differing views on Beijing-led mediation may serve to only further entrench the clashing opinions of both sides, prolonging the dispute. A prolonged dispute could lead to an escalation of Japanese import restrictions and may even lead to South Korea imposing import restrictions of its own against Japan.

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