U.S. Deputy SOS Left Alone After Japan, South Korea Refuse to Share Stage With Each Other

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was left alone at a news conference that was supposed to be a show of an alliance with Japan and South Korea after the nations refused to share a stage.

Sherman took questions from reporters from those countries alone. According to The Associated Press, she said there were "some bilateral differences" between the two Asian allies "that are continuing to be resolved unrelated to today's meeting."

Sherman did not specifically say what stopped the joint press conference from occurring, Reuters reported. A spokesperson from the State Department refused to give details.

On Wednesday, Sherman said she talked with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori in a three-hour meeting. After the meeting, Sherman told reporters the talks were "constructive (and) substantive."

Discussions about the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, the three nations' commitment to progressing democratic values and human rights, and emphasizing their commitment to keeping an inclusive, free, peaceful, stable, and open Indo-Pacific region were had, Sherman said.

South Korea and Japan have numerous disputes. Those disagreements have rarely forced the cancellation of three-way display of unity on North Korea with the U.S, The Associated Press reported. The U.S. has treaty commitments to defend both nations and a large military presence in each.

Japan's wartime occupation of Korea, Japan's management of radioactive materials from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and trade conflicts are among the areas of dispute for the two countries.

For more reporting the Associated Press, see below.

Wendy Sherman, Mori Takeo, Choi Jong Un
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks at the State Department in Washington, Aug. 18, 2021. A U.S.-sponsored show of alliance with Japan and South Korea stumbled Wednesday, Nov. 17, when American diplomats couldn't convince their Asian allies to share a news conference stage. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo, File

Japan places a premium on resolving the matter of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, while South Korea has often been more willing to show lenience toward its immediate neighbor.

South Korea, meanwhile, harbors great residual animosity toward Japan over its wartime behavior and occupation of Korea, including the issue of so-called "comfort women" — Korean women forced into sexual servitude by Japan's imperial army.

More recently, the two U.S. allies have had high-profile disputes over commercial practices and intelligence sharing.

The United States has been working to build multiparty alliances in the Indo-Pacific as a deterrence to China's own territorial claims there. The canceled three-party press conference appeared an unusual — and unusually public — warning of the limits of any such U.S., Japan and South Korea alliance.

The progress before the news conference no-show "demonstrates exactly why the trilateral format with the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea is so important and powerful," Sherman said.

Wendy Sherman, News Conference, Japan, South Korea
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was left alone at a news conference meant as a show of a U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea after both nations refused to share the stage with each other. In this photo, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong bumps elbows with Sherman prior to their meeting at Foreign Ministry on July 22, 2021 in Seoul, South Korea. Song Kyung-Seok/Pool/Getty Images