WATCH | China hosts Japan, South Korea with eyes on nuclear North

2019-12-24 13:55
China hosts leaders from Japan and South Korea. (Screen grab, AFP)

China hosts leaders from Japan and South Korea. (Screen grab, AFP)

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China hosted the leaders of squabbling neighbours South Korea and Japan for their first meeting in over a year on Tuesday, flexing its diplomatic muscle with America's two key military allies in Asia and seeking regional unity on how to deal with a belligerent North Korea.

The gathering in the southwestern city of Chengdu was held with the clock ticking on a threatened "Christmas gift" from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that could reignite global tensions over its nuclear programme.

Kim has promised the unidentified "gift" - which analysts and American officials believe could be a provocative missile test - if the US does not make concessions in their nuclear talks by the end of the year.

READ | Japan rejects South Korea deal over wartime forced labour

The gathering also featured the first bilateral meeting between South Korea's Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 15 months.

Ties between their two nations have hit rock bottom in recent months over trade issues and other disputes related to decades of bitter wrangling over Japan's 1910 - 1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Diplomacy

The US has frequently urged its two allies to bury the hatchet - worried that their poor relations were complicating diplomacy in Asia - although it has held off on direct mediation.

China is appearing to fill that void with the Chengdu event.

"As the region's major power, China hopes to show its diplomatic presence to the world by bringing the Japanese and South Korean leaders to the same table," said Haruko Satoh, professor and expert on Chinese politics at Osaka University.

At separate lead-up meetings in Beijing on Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Moon and Abe both spoke of China's diplomatic heft in the region.

Before leaving for China, Abe told reporters that links with Seoul remained "severe", but said the Chengdu meeting was important given the regional issues at stake.

Abe and Moon were photographed smiling and shaking hands during the meeting.

The relationship between Japan and South Korea is overshadowed by the 35 years of brutal colonisation by the Japanese - including the use of sex slaves and forced labour - that is still bitterly resented today.

Ties began a downward spiral in recent months after a series of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced labour victims.

These infuriated Tokyo, who insisted the matter had been settled by a 1965 treaty between the two countries.

Read more on:    south korea  |  china  |  japan
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