Back at the summit table: China, Japan and South Korea focus on region's prosperity and security

Leaders of China, Japan and South Korea put regional priorities ahead of historical animosities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 12:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 2:54am

The leaders of South Korea, China and Japan said on Sunday they were willing to work together again for regional trade and security after setting aside historical animosities with their first summit talks in three years.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussed a wide range of topics, from free trade to the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, during a 90-minute meeting in Seoul.

A joint statement after the talks included a commitment to sealing a trilateral free-trade agreement that would provide a counterpoint to the new US-led Pacific trade pact of which China and South Korea are not members.

Read more: Trade pact promises South Korean players unprecedented access to Chinese finance, telecom markets: Premier Li Keqiang

Officials also said they agreed to work towards the conclusion of a 16-nation FTA known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

"All parties involved in the RCEP negotiations are very active and have a strong wish," Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng told the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of the summit.

"We are capable of reaching the goal set by the state leaders of substantially concluding the negotiations by the end of 2015," Gao said.

Park said after the summit that the leaders agreed to expand economic and social cooperation for the mutual prosperity of Northeast Asia, and also to strengthen cooperation among the three countries to create new momentum for growth.

There was no substantive breakthrough, but having the leaders in the same room was seen as a symbolic statement of intent by the three nations to ease strained ties.

"We shared the view that trilateral cooperation has been completely restored … [at] this summit," the leaders said in the lengthy joint statement.

They also agreed to put the three-way summits back on an annual footing, with the next to be held in Japan in 2016.

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 the second world war had kept them on hold since 2012.

Li said Beijing hoped for "trouble-free" cooperation with Japan and South Korea.

"Cooperation should be made on the basis of handling sensitive issues such as history in a proper way and by promoting mutual understanding in Northeast Asia," Li said at the opening of the summit.

"It is regrettable that even among our three very close countries, there cannot be a deeper understanding among us."

It is regrettable that even among our three very close countries, there cannot be a deeper understanding among us
Premier Li Keqiang

Abe also said he hoped the summit would contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

In the statement, the leaders also underscored their "firm opposition to the development of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula," referring to North Korea's pursuit of atomic weapons in the face of international sanctions and condemnation.

The leaders did not make any reference to tensions in the South China Sea, where a US Navy destroyer sailed close to one of Beijing's artificial islands last week in the most significant challenge yet by Washington to Beijing's territorial claims in the Spratly archipelago.

Jilin University international relations professor Sun Xingjie said the three nations wanted to use the resumption of the talks to signal normalisation in their trilateral ties. "Making the trilateral meeting a regular event would discourage the three countries from using threats to call off the meeting as leverage in diplomatic talks," he said.

Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse