China said on Tuesday it had agreed with Japan and South Korea to hold a summit between the three countries’ leaders “as early as possible”, after a rare meeting between senior diplomats in Seoul.

China Japan South Korea 
Funakoshi Takehiro Chung Byung-won Nong Rong summit seoul
(Left to right) Japan’s Senior Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Funakoshi Takehiro, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Chung Byung-won and China’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nong Rong shake hands ahead of their Trilateral High-Level Meeting (SOM) in Seoul on September 26, 2023. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

The three-way talks — attended by deputy and assistant ministers from the three countries — were seen as an attempt to ease Beijing’s concerns over Washington’s deepening security ties with Tokyo and Seoul.

Beijing described them as a “in-depth discussion on promoting the stable restarting of cooperation”.

“It was agreed that carrying out cooperation between China, Japan and South Korea is in the common interests of the three parties,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

The three countries agreed to hold a meeting of their foreign ministers “in the next few months”, Wang said, and to promote “the holding of a leaders’ meeting as early as possible at a time convenient to all three countries.”

Wang Wenbin
Wang Wenbin. Photo: Spokesperson office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via Twitter.

South Korea’s foreign ministry also said the diplomats had “agreed to hold the trilateral summit meeting at the earliest time possible and host a trilateral ministerial meeting in preparation.”

The last such summit took place in 2019.

No other leaders’ summit has since been held because of diplomatic and historical disputes between Seoul and Tokyo, in part linked to Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin stressed that cooperation among the three countries “plays a significant role not only in Northeast Asia but also in the peace, stability, and prosperity of the world”, his ministry said in a statement before the meeting.

South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol attends ‘U.S.-Korea Business Forum’ at U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. on April 25, 2023. Photo: Kang Min Seok/Republic of Korea, via Flickr CC2.0.

Park further highlighted that together, the three nations “account for 20 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the global GDP”, it added.

As the threat from nuclear-armed North Korea grows, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol has pulled Seoul closer to long-standing ally Washington.

He has meanwhile sought to bury the hatchet with Japan, also a close US ally.

In August they said a “new chapter” of close three-way security cooperation was beginning after a historic summit at Camp David in the United States.

Beijing had lodged complaints over a statement released at the Camp David summit, in which the three allies criticised China’s “aggressive behaviour” in the South China Sea.

Beijing, Seoul’s biggest trading partner, is also North Korea’s most important ally and economic benefactor.

kim jong-un north korea dprk
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un. File photo: KCNA.

While Tokyo, Seoul and Washington have held joint military exercises against the growing North Korean threats, Beijing has recently sent senior officials to attend Pyongyang’s military parades.

China also claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory, vowing to seize it one day, and officials in Washington — a key ally of Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo — have cited 2027 as a possible timeline for an invasion.

In April, South Korea’s Yoon said that tensions over Taiwan were due to “attempts to change the status quo by force”.

The comment resulted in a diplomatic tit-for-tat, with Beijing lodging a protest, which Seoul condemned as a “serious diplomatic discourtesy”.

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