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Leaders show thawing ties at summit

Pool photos/The Yomiuri Shimbun

From left, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae In speak during their trilateral summit meeting at the State Guest House in Tokyo on Wednesday.

The Yomiuri ShimbunWednesday’s summit between leaders of Japan, China and South Korea suggested their relationship is on an upward trend, having cooled at times in recent years.

By strengthening cooperation with China and South Korea, the Japanese government aims to pave the way toward the denuclearization of North Korea and resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents.

However, concerns remain because there are differences between the three countries about how North Korea’s denuclearization should be achieved.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — facing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae In — stressed the significance of the trilateral summit as he opened the meeting, the first of its kind in 2½ years. “Building a future-oriented cooperative relationship between Japan, China and South Korea is also greatly important for the whole region,” Abe said.

It was the first visit to Japan by a Chinese premier in seven years, since Wen Jiabao’s visit in May 2011. It was also the first visit to Japan by a South Korean president in six years and five months, following Lee Myung Bak in December 2011.

“This is a huge diplomatic achievement by the Abe administration,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said, reflecting the sentiments of the Japanese government.

The trilateral summit came ahead of a historic first meeting between the leaders of the United States and North Korea, making it a golden opportunity for the three leaders to exchange opinions on the North Korean issue.

The trilateral summit was the seventh of its kind, excluding meetings held on the sidelines of international conferences and other occasions. Japan hosted the first in 2008, and it was held every year after until 2012.

However, it took 3½ years for the sixth meeting to take place in 2015 because of the prolonged confrontation between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and a deterioration in the relationship between Japan and South Korea over the comfort women issue.

Japan, which has served as chair since 2016, tried to arrange a trilateral summit around the end of that year. But that meeting was postponed due to political confusion in South Korea over former President Park Geun-hye.

Even after Moon took office in May 2017, it was difficult to schedule the meeting due to factors like the confrontation between China and South Korea over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.

China has used these trilateral talks to play its diplomatic card. Observers believe the reason Beijing accepted the summit this time — aside from the growing momentum toward improved Japan-China ties — is because it intends to get Seoul onside over the North Korean issue.

However, while Japan is calling for maintaining the pressure on Pyongyang along with the demand for it to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” manner, China has supported North Korea’s intention to have sanctions against it gradually lifted.

Because South Korea is also inclined to take a conciliatory attitude toward the North, there are rising concerns that coordination between the three countries, plus the United States, could fall into disarray.Speech

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