US State Department official Wendy Sherman conducted a press conference Wednesday about tensions in Asia, but it was most notable for who wasn't there. Her counterparts from Japan and South Korea failed to show up as scheduled because they're feuding over regional islands, reports Reuters. The three diplomats had just concluded talks about a wide range of issues—including China's military presence in the South China Sea and North Korea's nuclear program—and Sherman tried to downplay the subsequent no-shows at the news conference.
“There are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that are continuing to be resolved, and one of those differences, which is unrelated to today’s meeting, has led to the change in format for today’s press availability,” she told reporters. The two nations disagree about ownership of a group of islands in the sea of Japan, which are currently administered by South Korea. Japan calls them Takeshima, while South Korea calls them Dokdo, and neutral parties might refer to them as the Liancourt Rocks, thanks to an old French shipwreck, per the Guardian.
The dispute intensified recently because the head of South Korea's police visited the disputed islands and angered Japan, the first such visit in more than a decade. “We cannot accept this at all and regard it as extremely unfortunate, considering that [the islands] are clearly an inherent part of Japan’s territory in view of historical facts and international laws,” said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno. One party enjoying the friction appears to be China. Bloomberg notes that Chinese state media played up the abandoned news conference as a sign of waning American influence. (Read more Japan stories.)