Moon meets Suga at G-7, but bilateral session not in the cards

Moon meets Suga at G-7, but bilateral session not in the cards
Participating world leaders pose for a photo at the G-7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, England on Saturday. First row, from left: Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Emmanuel Macron of France, Boris Johnson of the UK, Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Joe Biden of the US. Second row: Yoshihide Suga of Japan, Angela Merkel of Germany, Justin Trudeau of Canada and Scott Morrison of Australia. Third row: UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Council President Charles Michel, Mario Draghi of Italy and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. (Yonhap)

CORNWALL, England/SEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged greetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday at the G-7 summit in the UK. But a separate session does not appear to be in the cards this time, amid speculation that the leaders of the two bickering neighbors could get together for a pull-over meeting or a trilateral one with the US. 

Moon and Suga “exchanged greetings” just before the start of an expanded session of the G-7 summit at Carbis Bay Hotel and Estate in Cornwall, southwestern England, said Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Kyung-mee, without elaborating further. South Korea was invited as a guest to this year’s Group of Seven wealthy democracies gathering, which runs from Friday to Sunday, along with Australia, India and South Africa.

Kyodo News, citing Japanese government officials, said the two met “accidently,” and that they were happy to see each other, adding it was Moon that approached Suga to speak to him. 

Their brief encounter marks the first face-to-face meeting between Moon and Suga since the Japanese leader took office last September. They talked over the phone on Sept. 24 after Suga assumed leadership of the country, but no in-person talks have been held, reflecting strained bilateral ties over economic and historic disputes. 

Leading up to the G-7 summit, there was growing speculation that a pull-over meeting could happen between Suga and Moon, or a trilateral session including US President Joe Biden, as heads of state often hold spontaneous meetings on the fringes of the G-7 summit. Seoul had not completely ruled out the possibility of trilateral or bilateral meetings before Moon’s departure. 

But considering Moon’s packed schedule on Sunday, the third and final day of the summit, a separate meeting with Suga and Biden appears to be less likely this time. 

Seoul has been seeking to defuse diplomatic tensions with Tokyo, which are rooted in Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of South Korea and have morphed into an ongoing economic feud. This comes as the Biden administration pushes for tighter trilateral cooperation with its two Northeast Asian allies in the face of an assertive China and a defiant North Korea.
While Moon has expressed a willingness to talk with his Japanese counterpart and both countries do recognize the need to mend soured relations, observers say Suga, who has his hands full with domestic issues, sees little benefit in holding a summit with Seoul at this time. With a year left of Moon’s term, Tokyo also expects no drastic progress to be made in resolving pending issues. 

At the summit, Moon also met with Biden, where he expressed gratitude to the US for providing Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines to Korea. The two met in Washington last month for a summit, during which Biden agreed to send 1 million doses of Janssen vaccines for South Korean troops. 

After wrapping up the G-7 session on Sunday, Moon is set to fly to Austria for a state visit, marking the first time for a Korean president to visit the country since the two sides established diplomatic ties in 1892. 

While in Vienna, Moon is to have summit talks with President Alexander Van der Bellen and a meeting with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
 
He will then fly to Spain on Tuesday for a three-day visit, during which he is scheduled to hold a summit with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. He is also set to meet with King Felipe VI.

By Ahn Sung-mi and Joint Press Corps (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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