SEOUL: Chinese Premier Li Qiang praised what he called a restart in relations with Japan and South Korea as he met their leaders for the first three-way talks in over four years on Monday in Seoul, striving to revive trade and security dialogues hampered by pandemic and global tensions.

Li, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will adopt a joint statement on six areas, including the economy and trade, science and technology, people-to-people exchanges and health and the aging population, Seoul officials said.

They may also agree to resume three-party free trade agreement negotiations, which have been stalled since 2019, according to Japanese media.

At the summit, Li called for the comprehensive resumption of trilateral cooperation with an open attitude and transparent measures, Xinhua reported. He said relations between the three nations had not changed despite profound global transformations.

All three reaffirm resolve to denuclearise Korean Peninsula

“Our meeting today, first in more than four years, is both a restart and a new beginning,” Li said, according to a post on X by China’s foreign ministry.

Amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington, China and the US allies — South Korea and Japan — are trying to manage distrust.

Yoon and Kishida have charted a closer course with each other and to Washington, embarking on unprecedented three-way cooperation with the US on military and other measures.

Monday’s summit comes a day after the leaders met separately for bilateral talks with each other. In those meetings, Li and Yoon agreed to a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume free trade talks, while Kishida and the Chinese premier discussed Taiwan and agreed to hold a new round of bilateral high-level economic dialogue.

Officials and diplomats from South Korea and Japan have set a low bar for the summit, saying it is uncertain whether there will be major announcements but that just gathering will help the three countries revive and reinvigorate their strained ties.

The three leaders are also due to attend a forum with top business executives.

South Korea, Japan and China had held 16 rounds of official negotiations over a three-way FTA after they first kicked off in 2012.

Denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula

In a joint statement issued after the talks, the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to the “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, adding that peace “serves our common interest and is our common responsibility”.

However, North Korea hit back immediately, as a foreign ministry spokesperson said “discussing the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula today constitutes a grave political provocation.” Any talk of denuclearisation would “violate the constitutional position of our country as a nuclear weapons state,” said the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

“Such thing as ‘complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula’ has already died out theoretically, practically and physically,” it added.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has previously condemned North Korea’s nuclear tests and supported sanctions aimed at curbing its weapons development. Beijing has consistently supported calls for the denuclearisation of the entire Korean peninsula. South Korea does not have nuclear weapons, but is protected by the US that has deployed nuclear-armed submarines to the South in a show of force against the North. In recent years, Beijing has blamed US-South Korea joint military drills for escalating regional tensions.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2024

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