The top diplomats of South Korea, the United States and Japan were set to meet trilaterally in Thailand on Friday, as Tokyo's push to strip Seoul of a preferential trade status casts a pall over three-way security cooperation despite Pyongyang's saber-rattling.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her U.S. and Japanese counterparts -- Mike Pompeo and Taro Kono -- plan to hold talks at 4:30 p.m. (local time) on the margins of multilateral gatherings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok.
Their meeting is likely to come after Japan holds a Cabinet meeting to finalize a decision to drop South Korea from the "whitelist" of 27 countries given preferential treatment in purchasing Japanese dual-use products that can be diverted for military purposes.
The decision would aggravate the already high tensions caused by Tokyo's July 4 export control measure against Seoul and dampen hopes for tighter defense cooperation among the U.S. and its key Asian allies in the wake of North Korea's projectile launches on Wednesday and Friday.
At the talks, Pompeo is expected to redouble calls for Seoul and Tokyo to ease tensions and focus on joint efforts to confront Pyongyang's security challenges and foster a lasting peace on the divided peninsula.
Washington has indicated its willingness for engagement -- if not outright mediation -- to facilitate any efforts by Seoul and Tokyo to work out a diplomatic solution to their escalating trade dispute.
Before the trilateral gathering, Pompeo plans to meet bilaterally with Kono and then Kang.
During their bilateral talks Thursday, Kang and Kono only reconfirmed their differences in the trade and diplomatic row, reinforcing the expectation that Japan would press ahead with its plan to remove Korea from the whitelist.
Seoul has cast Tokyo's export control move as political retaliation for last year's Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula.
Japan argues that all reparation issues stemming from its past colonization were settled under a 1965 accord aimed at normalizing bilateral ties, and that the court rulings run counter to that accord. The top court, however, recognized victims' individual right to claim damages.
On Friday, Kang is set to attend the ASEAN Plus Three meeting, which involves South Korea, China and Japan; the East Asia Summit session; and the ASEAN Regional Forum. At these forums, she is expected to note that Japan's export curbs go against principles of free trade, a key driver of shared prosperity in the region. (Yonhap)