Photo/IllutrationSouth Korea’s Foreign Ministry in central Seoul (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

SEOUL--South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it will move its section on Japan policy into a planned Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau, a shakeup that local media say could scale down diplomatic efforts with Tokyo.

The ministry’s Japan section is currently set up under the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, which oversees diplomacy toward Japan and China.

South Korean diplomats say the shift, expected to take place in May, reflects the country’s growing trade with China, which represents about 25 percent of South Korea’s overall trade value.

In a statement, the ministry said it expects the move to let separate bureaus govern diplomacy toward Japan and China, two important countries in the region, to “serve as an opportunity to bolster bilateral relations.”

The Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau will be in charge of diplomacy toward Australia and India, in addition to Japan.

The Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau will deal with relations with China, Mongolia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But most of the work there is expected to focus on China.

In the past, officials from the so-called Japan school with extensive training in Japanese language skills have assumed the top and senior positions of the bureau. Such postings reflected what was considered South Korea’s emphasis on diplomacy toward Tokyo.

The JoongAng Ilbo, a leading local daily, said putting the Japan section in the new bureau could “raise concerns that South Korea’s diplomacy toward Japan will be scaled back in relation to China.”

The Foreign Ministry also plans to set up an ASEAN bureau that will handle relations with the 10 ASEAN member nations.