South Korea, Japan, China leaders meet in rare summit

2015-11-01 12:30
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Shizuo Kambayashi, AFP)

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Shizuo Kambayashi, AFP)

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Seoul — Leaders from South Korea, China and Japan said they pledged at a rare three-way summit Sunday to boost exchanges and economic cooperation and try to repair ties badly strained by history and territorial disputes.

The one-day summit in Seoul was the first of its kind in more than three years. High-level contact between Tokyo and its two Asian neighbors nose-dived after hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in late 2012. Beijing and Seoul see Abe as whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said the sides agreed to try to resolve history-related issues and improve ties by "facing history squarely and advancing toward the future."

The countries also pledged to restart holding a leaders' summit every year and push to deepen their economic cooperation by accelerating free trade negotiations among themselves. They also reaffirmed their resolve to resume stalled international negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

"I think it's historically important that the trilateral cooperation has been resumed," South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at a joint news conference with Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Starting his speech with "Hello" in Korean in a friendly gesture, Abe said he exchanged opinions on how to achieve regional prosperity with Park and Li in a "considerably candid manner." He said Japan would host a leaders' summit next year.

Despite protests from Seoul and Beijing, Abe hasn't yielded on his nationalism. Even so, the three countries, closely linked economically, are pushing to find a way to improve ties.

Trade agreements

On Saturday, Park and Li met separately and agreed to work toward ratifying by the end of the year a bilateral free trade agreement that their legislatures have yet to approve.

Park is to meet Abe on Monday in what will be her first formal one-on-one meeting with him since her inauguration in early 2013. Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Abe last November on the sidelines of a regional conference that Beijing hosted, and they've met twice since.

North Korea was on the agenda Sunday. Pyongyang's nuclear bomb and missile programs have long posed a serious security worry for Seoul and Tokyo. China is North Korea's only major ally and biggest aid benefactor, but has shown signs that it's increasingly fed up with the North's repeated provocations.

Park told Li that she wants China to continue to play a constructive role on North Korea issues, while Li called for more patience to continue efforts to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, according to Park's office.

South Korea, China, Japan and North Korea are all members of now-dormant international negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The other two members are the United States and Russia.

Despite widespread discontent in Seoul with Abe, Park has faced calls at home to improve ties with Tokyo, and Washington has pushed its two Asian allies to heal their rift.

South Korea and Japan together host about 80 000 US troops, the core of America's military presence in the Asia-Pacific. Washington wants to solidify its alliance with the two countries to better deal with a rising China and a North Korean threat.

Read more on:    south korea  |  china  |  japan

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