China, S. Korea, Japan put enmity aside at rare summit
THE leaders of South Korea, China and Japan said yesterday they were willing to work together again for regional trade and security after setting aside historical animosities with their first summit talks in more than three years.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Chinese and Japanese premiers Li Keqiang and Shinzo Abe discussed a wide range of topics, from free trade to the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, during a 90min sit down in Seoul.
There was no substantive breakthrough, with the meeting seen more as a symbolic statement of intent by North-east Asia's three largest economies to mend strained ties. "We shared the view that trilateral cooperation has been completely restored on the occasion of this summit," the leaders said in a joint statement.
They also agreed to put the three-way summits back on an annual footing, with the next to be held in Japan next year.
The three countries began holding annual summits seven years ago, but the souring of Japan's relations with its two neighbours over issues dating back to World War II triggered a lengthy hiatus after the last one in 2012.
The focus yesterday was on economic ties, with China especially keen to strengthen trade links as it tries to inject fresh momentum into its slowing economy.
The joint statement included a commitment to sealing a trilateral free-trade agreement that would provide a counterpoint to the new United States-led Pacific trade pact, of which China and South Korea are not members.
Also high on the agenda was North Korea, whose nuclear weapons ambitions worry - and threaten - all three countries including China, the North's main diplomatic protector and economic benefactor.
The leaders reaffirmed their "firm opposition" to the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula as well as any action that could raise tensions or violate United Nations resolutions.
Pyongyang has recently hinted at a space rocket launch which would contravene a UN ban on its use of ballistic missile technology.
Addressing reporters after their meeting, Ms Park said the summit had marked a "big step towards securing peace and prosperity" in North-east Asia.
"It is our shared interest... and we have to firmly maintain our goal to denuclearise North Korea," she added.
Ms Park and Mr Li had met for one-on-one talks on Saturday, but all eyes now will be on the South Korean president's first-ever summit with Mr Abe today - a major step after an extended diplomatic freeze.
The rift has frustrated Washington, which would prefer its two key Asian allies - who last held a proper summit in 2011 - to focus together on containing an increasingly assertive China.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have never been easy - clouded by sensitive historical disputes related to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, especially the issue of Korean "comfort women" forcibly recruited to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
Sunday's joint statement made no overt reference to the most sensitive issues, although it did stress the importance of "facing up" to history.
"We have agreed to look at history in a straightforward and future-oriented manner and properly handle sensitive issues, including historical ones," said Mr Li.