President Yoon Suk-yel, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hold a trilateral meeting at IFEMA in Madrid, Spain on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
MADRID -- A trilateral meeting between leaders of South Korea, the US and Japan for the first time in nearly five years set for Wednesday has fanned speculations about the strengthening of three-way cooperation in economic and security issues.
The meeting among South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of the NATO summit was expected to be an opportunity for the three sides to affirm the need to raise the level of trilateral security cooperation in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, according to Seoul’s presidential office.
The trilateral talk was the first in four years and nine months since the last held on the occasion of the UN General Assembly in September 2017.
It has drawn significant attention in South Korea, with Yoon having expressed a willingness to improve ties with Japan and increase Seoul’s part in US-led global security and economic initiatives.
“The three leaders shared the view that North Korea’s continued progress in its nuclear and missile programs poses a serious threat not only to the Korean Peninsula but also to East Asia and the international community,” the presidential office said.
“They agreed to closely consult on ways to strengthen the US commitment to extended deterrence and raise the level of trilateral security cooperation to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs,” according to the office.
South Korea, the US and Japan would continue to work closely together so that North Korea can return to the table of dialogue while responding strongly to North Korea‘s provocations in principle, it added.
A day earlier, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Madrid that the trilateral summit would be mainly focused on the continuing threat from North Korea, particularly after an extended period of intense testing and other provocative activities the North Korea has undertaken. Four-way meeting with Australia, Japan and New Zealand
Earlier in the day Wednesday, Yoon met with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the Japanese prime minister.
South Korea and the three other Asia-Pacific nations, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, were invited to the NATO summit as partner countries. There were mixed messages on whether the four-way encounter would take place, with the South Korean presidential office finally confirming the meeting less than two hours before the talks.
“They exchanged opinions on ways of cooperation between NATO and the four Asia-Pacific countries related to the recent international situation and common interests in the Indo-Pacific region,” the presidential office said. Boosting ties with allies at NATO
The South Korean president also held a string of bilateral and multilateral meetings on the day.
Yoon kicked off his diplomatic meetings set for the day with a summit with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Park Jin and Choi Sang-mok, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs. From the Dutch side, Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongrenc joined. The meeting was followed by an audience with Spain’s King Felipe VI.
Other summit talks scheduled for the day included meetings with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
Throughout the day, he also met briefly with the leaders of Canada, Romania and the European Union, respectively, as pull-aside meetings.
At 3 p.m., Yoon was set to attend the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of heads of state and government with partners, to give a three-minute speech on mustering support for the peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The hectic diplomatic schedule of Yoon’s first overseas trip was to be capped off for the day with a dinner with Korean compatriots.
First lady Kim Keon-hee, for her part, attended the NATO summit’s spouse program and visited the royal palace, the royal glass factory and the Reina Sofia Museum.
By Shin Ji-hye
Korea Herald correspondent