TOKYO, Japan — The United States, Japan and South Korea on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to work together on North Korea's denuclearization and other regional threats but made no progress in bringing closer together the two U.S. allies.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who held talks in Tokyo with her counterparts, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and South Korea’s Choi Jong-kun, said their alliance remains a “lynchpin of peace, security and prosperity."
The officials reaffirmed the importance of respecting international law, including maintaining freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and opposed any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait.
“When countries take actions that run counter to the United States’ interests or that threatens our partners and allies, we will not let those challenges go unanswered,” Sherman said.
The United States and Japan have raised concern about China's pressing its claims to contested areas in the South China Sea and Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu.
“It is important for the international community to unite and raise voice against (China's) unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, and I hope to cooperate among the three countries,” Mori said.
South Korea's Choi stayed away from the China issue at Wednesday's joint news conference and stressed the importance of maintaining dialogue with North Korea.
The worsening relations between Washington and Beijing have raised worries in Seoul that it would become squeezed between its main security ally and biggest trade partner.
Choi repeatedly welcomed the significance of holding the trilateral talks and said he hoped to have them held regularly for “close communication” among the three countries.
Japan and South Korea have been trying to improve ties since President Joe Biden took office calling for stronger three-way cooperation in the face of the North Korean nuclear threats and challenges posed by China.
There has been little improvement.
Mori and Choi remained apart on issues dating back to Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula and atrocities committed before and during World War II, and only agreed to continue talks.
Mori urged South Korea to responsibly resolve the issues related to compensation of wartime Korean laborers and sexual abuses of “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers to restore “healthy relations” between the two countries.
Choi repeated his country’s position that the issues would not be solved unless Japan changed its position.
Earlier this week, President Moon Jae-in scrapped a plan to visit Tokyo for Friday’s opening of the Olympics and meet with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.