All eyes on Kishida at ASEAN talks


Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s regional diplomacy skills were to be tested in Brunei from Saturday as he looks to improve ties with China and South Korea.

Japan’s relations with both neighbors have been strained by differences of perception regarding its wartime history and disputes over the Japan-controlled Senkakus chain in the East China Sea, which is claimed by China and Taiwan, and a pair of South Korean-held but Japan-claimed islets in the Sea of Japan.

Kishida planned to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday and with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se the following day on the sidelines of a series of meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its dialogue partners, according to Japanese government sources.

In April, Yun canceled plans to visit Japan to protest ceremonial visits made by Cabinet members to Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto facility widely viewed as a symbol of the country’s former militarism.

Japanese officials hope Kishida’s interaction with Wang and Yun will lead to bilateral summits when the leaders of the three countries fly to St. Petersburg, Russia, for a Group of 20 summit in early September, diplomatic sources said.

In Brunei, Kishida and Yun will hold a trilateral meeting Monday with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The three are expected to reaffirm their determination to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programs, officials in Tokyo said.

Even China, the North’s main economic and diplomatic benefactor, imposed financial sanctions on Pyongyang after a long-range rocket launch in December and a third nuclear test in February, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Kishida is also planning to meet bilaterally with Kerry, perhaps to discuss China’s growing activities near the Senkaku Islands as well as efforts to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, a Japanese delegation source said.

Meanwhile, ASEAN’s foreign ministers are expected to call for increased economic and financial cooperation in a meeting Sunday with Japan, China and South Korea — a grouping known as ASEAN Plus Three.

In a Japan-ASEAN meeting also to take place Sunday, Kishida is expected to repeat Tokyo’s support for the 10-member bloc’s initiative to establish an economic community in 2015.

On Tuesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun is scheduled to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a 27-member security meeting where top diplomats from the region are expected to urge Pyongyang to comply with obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, such as the abandonment of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.

As for territorial disputes in the South China Sea involving China and a host of regional neighbors, some ASEAN countries — in collaboration with the United States and Japan — appear poised to keep a rising and assertive Beijing in check by raising the issue at a multilateral forum and calling for it to be addressed in accordance with international law, rather than by force.

As is the case for the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu and Taiwan refers to as Tiaoyutai, the Chinese government argues that the territorial issue should be addressed bilaterally — instead of multilaterally — and opposes U.S. intervention.

The ARF will be followed by a foreign ministerial session of the East Asia Summit at which North Korea and maritime security are likely to top the agenda.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.