The Canadian government is keeping a tight lid on which countries have been invited and plan to attend Tuesday’s meeting, which Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is organizing with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry revealed Wednesday that his country will not be at the table, even as he criticized the meeting and suggested it will set back – rather than advance – peace efforts.
“It will only create divisions within the international community and harm joint efforts to appropriately resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue,” spokesman Lu Kang was quoted as telling reporters in Beijing.
Russia is also expected to be absent along with China, meaning two of North Korea’s most important and influential neighbours will be missing when Freeland and Tillerson sit down with other foreign ministers.
A Japanese foreign ministry official, meanwhile, was quoted by Bloomberg News on Wednesday raising questions about the involvement of countries such as Colombia and Greece, which are peripheral to the North Korea crisis.
Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Amy Mills said Canada recognizes the essential role that China has to play in any diplomatic efforts involving North Korea, and has “repeatedly engaged” with it about the Vancouver meeting.
But Mills would not say whether China had been invited to the Vancouver meeting and declined to provide a list of countries that had received invitations, saying a list of participating states “will be released in due time.”
Freeland and Tillerson announced plans to hold the Jan. 16 meeting during Tillerson’s visit to Ottawa last month.
The decision followed growing concerns over the last six months about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities, which the country has showcased numerous times with a variety of tests.
The meeting is ostensibly designed to show international solidarity in the face of the North Korean threat, discuss ways to strengthen sanctions against the country and seek diplomatic solutions to the crisis.
Yet without Russia and China, both of which have been involved in the so-called Six-Party Talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to North Korea’s nuclear program, it’s unclear what the Vancouver meeting can really achieve.
“If both China and Russia are absent from the meeting, then the significance and the utility of the gathering will be greatly discounted,” Wenran Jiang, an expert on Asian politics from the University of Alberta, said in an email.
“It is simply not possible to have meaningful outcome without China and/or Russia at the table when it comes to dealing with crisis on the Korean peninsula.”
But University of British Columbia professor Paul Evans, one of Canada’s top experts on Asia, said it remains unclear what the government hopes to achieve with the meeting – or even what approach it wants to take on North Korea.
That will ultimately decide whether the government views the Vancouver meeting as a success.
“Is it going to be middle-power multilateralism, where we bring countries together, the like-minded and not like-minded, to fashion some solutions that will be supportive of what the big guys are going to be doing?” Evans said.
“Or is this coalitional activity with our American friends, signalling we are onside with them come hell or high water?”
*with a file from Vassy Kapelos