Foreign ministers from Japan, China, and South Korea met to discuss North Korean issues in Busan. They hope to explore cooperative possibilities despite deepening ties between Moscow and Pyongyang. The trilateral mechanism is seen as ineffective due to China’s significant influence over North Korea. However, analysts think there may be potential for change. The meeting came days after North Korea launched a military spy satellite using ballistic missile technology. Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. condemned the launch, but China did not criticize Pyongyang.

There is speculation that Russia’s military cooperation with North Korea may be linked to the satellite launch. China’s wariness over this could provide room for trilateral cooperation. However, the three-way scheme “needs to be coordinated with deep consultations with the United States.” The trilateral ministerial talks came after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, which could improve strained Sino-U.S. and Sino-Japanese ties.

While Beijing’s influence alone cannot settle issues surrounding North Korean missile and nuclear development, nudging China into showing a cooperative stance in a multilateral framework is still important. However, the trilateral meetings have limits in terms of their outcomes. The experts warned that North Korea’s missile launch creates more challenges for the U.S. amid its rivalry with China. North Korea has said the spy satellite will officially begin its mission on Dec. 1, and plans to place several more satellites into orbit.

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