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Japanese diplomat pulls out of US press conference over island dispute with South Korea

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Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman leaves after speaking on the situation in Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, DC, USA, August 18, 2021. Andrew Harnik / Pool via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Japan’s deputy foreign minister withdrew from a scheduled press conference with his South Korean and US counterparts in Washington on Wednesday over a territorial dispute between the two US allies, a spokesman said. of the Japanese embassy.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman left questions unanswered in the absence of South Korea’s first deputy foreign minister Choi Jong Kun and Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Mori, whom she had just met. for three hours.

Sherman began by noting that “there are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that continue to be resolved,” but said the cancellation of the joint press conference was not related to the previous tripartite meeting, which she called “constructive.” (and) substantive. “

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The three officials discussed freedom of navigation and flight in the South China Sea and their countries’ commitment to advancing democratic values ​​and human rights, and reiterated their commitment to maintaining an inclusive, free, peaceful, sustainable and open Indo-Pacific, Sherman said. .

Japanese embassy spokesman Masashi Mizobuchi said Tokyo had “strongly protested” on Tuesday over a visit by the South Korean police chief to the disputed islands between countries known as Takeshima in Japan. The grouping of wind-swept volcanic rocks is controlled by Seoul, which calls them Dokdo, but is also claimed by Japan.

“In these circumstances, we have decided that it is inappropriate to hold a joint press conference,” Mizobuchi said in an email.

Choi told reporters in Washington that the Japanese side informed them of its decision not to attend the press conference shortly before the start of the trilateral talks.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said he had nothing to add to Choi’s comments, but that Seoul’s stance remains unchanged that Dokdo is the country’s territory historically, geographically and under international law.

Ties between the two nations have also deteriorated over the Korean occupation of Japan in 1910-1945, including “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for mostly Korean women forced to work in its wartime brothels. The historic dispute has sparked trade restrictions in recent years.

The trip to the island by National Police Agency Commissioner Kim Chang-yong was made in consultation with the foreign ministry amid diplomatic sensitivities, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported, citing unidentified police sources.

But it was not intended to be published and became known only when it was inadvertently listed in its weekly public schedule, the report said.

The visit to the island, which is led by a small detachment of South Korean police, was the first by a national police chief since 2009, Yonhap said.

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Stephen Coates, Peter Cooney and Kim Coghill

Our standards: Principles of Trust by Thomson Reuters.

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