China’s premier agrees to cooperate with Seoul and Tokyo, but expresses criticism of their relationship with the US

China’s premier, during a meeting on Monday, expressed willingness to restore three-way cooperation with South Korea and Japan, acknowledging the need to address common challenges. However, he also subtly criticized the expanding security collaboration between the two countries and the United States.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently held their countries’ first trilateral meeting in over four years in Seoul.

Experts view the resumption of the countries’ highest-level annual meeting and the agreement to improve ties as a positive signal for cooperation among the three Northeast Asian neighbors. This comes at a time when all three countries are grappling with economic uncertainties arising from global wars and instability. However, the extent to which their cooperation will be enhanced remains uncertain, given the presence of various longstanding complex issues between them.

During the joint news conference following the meeting, Li expressed China’s desire to collaborate with South Korea and Japan in the field of economic matters, with a particular focus on supply chains and the resumption of discussions regarding a trilateral free trade agreement.

Yoon mentioned that the three leaders have agreed to prioritize people-to-people and cultural exchanges, establish secure supply chain networks, and collaborate on addressing common issues related to the environment, health, and more. Kishida emphasized the significant role that the three countries play in maintaining regional peace and announced that Japan will be chairing the upcoming trilateral leaders’ meeting.

During the meeting, Li expressed Chinese concerns regarding Japan and South Korea’s efforts to strengthen their security partnership with the U.S. This is seen by Beijing as an attempt to create a bloc with the intention of containing China.

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During the meeting with Yoon and Kishida, Li emphasized the importance of honest dialogues in building trust and resolving doubts. He stressed the need to uphold the spirit of strategic autonomy and maintain strong bilateral relations. Li also highlighted the significance of promoting multipolarity in the world and opposing the formation of blocs or camps.

China is expressing concern over Japan’s intention to acquire 400 U.S. Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles and provide repair and maintenance services for U.S. warships in Japan, which would enhance their capabilities in the western Pacific. Additionally, China is voicing objections to the increased military exercises involving South Korea, the U.S., and Japan.

During the trilateral meeting, there was a momentary overshadowing when North Korea unexpectedly informed Japan about its intention to launch a satellite by early next week. This move seemed to be an attempt by North Korea to put its second spy satellite into orbit.

The United Nations prohibits North Korea from conducting satellite launches, as it considers them to be covert tests of the country’s long-range missile capabilities. North Korea argues that it requires spy satellites to effectively monitor South Korea and the United States, and to enhance the accuracy of its missile attacks.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon emphasized the need for strong international measures in the event of North Korea proceeding with the launch. Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida urged North Korea to abandon its satellite launch plans. On the other hand, Chinese Foreign Minister Li did not specifically address the launch plan, instead making general remarks about the promotion of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula through political means.

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China has been repeatedly urged by South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. to utilize its influence in persuading North Korea to relinquish its nuclear aspirations. However, suspicions have arisen that China has not fully enforced United Nations sanctions on North Korea and may be providing covert aid shipments to sustain its struggling neighbor and maintain its position as a barrier against U.S. influence in the Korean Peninsula.

During their bilateral meeting on Sunday, Yoon urged China to play a crucial role in fostering peace on the Korean Peninsula. The discussion centered around North Korea’s nuclear program and its growing military alliance with Russia.

During their meeting on Sunday, Kishida addressed his serious concerns regarding the situations in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. He also emphasized that Japan is closely monitoring the developments surrounding self-governed Taiwan. Kishida expressed these concerns to reporters after his meeting with Li.

Kishida mentioned China’s aggressive military actions in the South China Sea, crackdowns on pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, and human rights violations against minorities in Xinjiang. Just last week, China conducted a significant military exercise near Taiwan, expressing its frustration with the island’s new president who does not acknowledge China’s claim that Taiwan is part of its territory.

Li did not directly address the accusations against China’s actions in the South China Sea or its stance on Taiwan on Monday.

Li emphasized the need for China, Japan, and South Korea to handle sensitive issues and differences in a constructive manner. He urged them to consider each other’s core interests and major concerns while working towards building a genuine multilateralism.

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The three Asian countries collectively account for approximately 25% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), and they share strong economic and cultural ties. However, their relationships have experienced intermittent challenges due to historical issues related to Japan’s wartime actions. Additionally, China’s pursuit of increased global influence and the United States’ efforts to strengthen alliances in Asia have posed potential risks to the interconnectedness of these three nations.

The annual China-South Korea-Japan trilateral meeting, which started in 2008, has been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the complex relationships between the three countries. The most recent meeting took place in December 2019 in Chengdu, China, and since then, the sessions have been put on hold.

China, South Korea, and Japan all desire improved relations. Both South Korea and Japan view China as their largest trading partner. Analysts believe that China perceives any further enhancement of the security alliance between South Korea, Japan, and the United States as detrimental to its national interests.

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