Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to hold informal talks with his Chinese and North Korean counterparts on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum this weekend in Myanmar’s capital of Naypyitaw, government sources said.
It is not known whether Kishida will hold talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, though a trilateral meeting involving Kishida, Yun and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to take place, with discussion of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs top of the agenda.
Tokyo’s relations with Beijing and Seoul have soured in recent months amid ongoing territorial disputes as well as differing perceptions of Japan’s wartime history.
In contrast, ties with Pyongyang have taken an upward turn since a May agreement between the two nations yielded a fresh probe by North Korea into Japanese nationals abducted by its agents in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as other missing citizens thought to have been abducted.
Should Kishida hold talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong during this weekend’s meetings, he is expected to press Pyongyang to deliver detailed information about the abductees in its first report on the reinvestigations in September, the sources said.
If such talks take place, it would be the highest-level exchange between the two countries since they resumed intergovernmental negotiations in March.
Kishida also plans to lodge a protest with Ri over North Korea’s recent launches of short-range ballistic missiles and request a moratorium on further missile testing. He is also expected to push for concrete action toward denuclearization, according to the sources.
Ri, who became foreign minister in April, is a close aide to leader Kim Jong Un. A former ambassador to Switzerland, he is believed to have served as Kim’s guardian when he studied there during the 1990s.
Given their presumably close ties, it is hoped that Ri will be able to convey Kishida’s messages directly to Kim, the sources said.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs are likely to draw attention at the 27-member ARF, the largest annual security meeting in Asia, along with the crisis in Ukraine and heightened tensions in the South China Sea where Beijing has shown increasing willingness to flex its military muscle to press its territorial claims.
Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea, and has been asserting control over all the land features and waters encompassed by its U-shaped “nine-dash line” in territorial disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
In the East China Sea, Beijing has increased its assertiveness with regard to the Senkaku Islands that are administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
According to the sources, Kishida is considering talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a so-called ASEAN-plus-three foreign ministerial meeting on Saturday.
“We would like to continue to implement our policy of maintaining a dialogue with China on a variety of levels,” Kishida told reporters on Tuesday, expressing his willingness to hold talks with Wang in Naypyitaw. “It is my strong hope that the Chinese side will respond to us.”
Beijing, however, has expressed reluctance to arrange formal talks between Kishida and Wang — saying the two sides have yet to create an environment for such talks, the sources said.
The ASEAN-plus-three process involves the 10 ASEAN member states — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — plus China, Japan and South Korea.
If Kishida is able to meet with Wang, he plans to discuss how relations between China and Japan can be improved, the sources said.
He is also expected to call for Wang’s cooperation in fixing a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum slated for November in Beijing, they said.
In addition to the ARF and the ASEAN-plus-three meeting, Kishida is scheduled to attend a foreign ministerial meeting between Japan and ASEAN on Saturday and a foreign ministerial session of the East Asia Summit on Sunday.
He also plans to meet bilaterally with Kerry on either Saturday or Sunday.