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Chinese and Japanese leaders travel to South Korea for their first trilateral meeting since 2019

The Chinese and Japanese leaders are scheduled to arrive in Seoul and meet the South Korean president separately, before their tripartite meeting.

No major announcement is expected from the trilateral meeting between South Korea, China and Japan on Monday. But the mere resumption of trilateral talks at the highest level is a good sign and indicates that the three Asian neighbors are determined to improve their relations.

After arriving in Seoul on Sunday, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are scheduled to hold bilateral talks with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol to discuss ways to enhance cooperation and other issues, according to South Korean officials. Lee and Kishida are expected to meet bilaterally as well.

When Yoon, Lee and Kishida meet in a trilateral session on Monday, they will discuss cooperation in six specific areas — people-to-people exchanges, climate change, trade, health issues, technology and disaster responses, according to South Korea’s presidential office. .

Sensitive topics such as North Korea’s nuclear program, China’s claim to self-ruled Taiwan and territorial disputes in the South China Sea are not among the items on the official agenda. But some experts say North Korea’s nuclear program – which poses a major security threat to South Korea and Japan – is likely to be discussed among the three leaders although it is unclear whether and to what extent they will publish the contents of their discussions.

The three neighbors are important trading partners to each other, and their cooperation is essential to promoting regional peace and prosperity. But they have repeatedly become embroiled in bitter disputes over a range of historical and diplomatic issues arising from Japan’s wartime atrocities. The rise of China and American pressure to strengthen its Asian alliances have also greatly affected trilateral relations between them in recent years.

Both South Korea and Japan are vibrant democracies and major military allies of the United States in the region, but in recent years their relations have suffered a major setback over the issue of Korean forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial period. Bilateral relations have improved significantly since last year, when Yoon took a major step toward moving beyond historical grievances to deal with common challenges such as North Korean nuclear threats, growing Sino-US competition and supply chain vulnerabilities.

Since 2022, North Korea has engaged in an unprecedented, provocative series of weapons tests to build powerful nuclear missiles capable of striking key sites in the US mainland, South Korea, and Japan. In response, South Korea, Japan and the United States expanded their trilateral security partnership, but this sparked a rebuke from China and North Korea.

South Korea, Japan and the United States want China – North Korea’s main ally and economic exporter – to use its influence to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. But China is believed to have secretly supported poor North Korea.

Experts say South Korea, China and Japan now share the need to improve relations. South Korea and Japan want better relations with China because it is their largest trading partner. China, for its part, is likely to believe that strengthening cooperation between South Korea, Japan, and the United States would harm its national interests.

“With the complex changes unfolding in our region and beyond, we hope that the upcoming summit meeting will inject new momentum into trilateral cooperation and provide better ways to achieve mutual benefit for the three countries,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday.

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