Seoul: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Seoul on Saturday for a three-way summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aimed at repairing relations strained from historical and territorial issues.
A day before the summit, Ms. Park and Mr. Li were set to hold a separate meeting on Saturday with a likely focus on trade issues between two of the region’s closest economic partners. Mr. Li might also seek some sort of assurance from Ms. Park that Seoul, a key U.S. ally, will keep a neutral stance over the recent flare-up between Washington and Beijing over the U.S. Navy’s freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, analysts said.
Sunday’s trilateral summit will be the first since 2012. The meetings were shelved after Japan’s ties with its two neighbours deteriorated over disputes stemming from its wartime aggression and territorial claims.
Ms. Park will separately meet Mr. Abe on Monday in the first formal bilateral summit in more than three years.
Japan and China have been gradually resuming exchanges following 2012 tensions over the control of disputed islands in the East China Sea. The rift began healing after diplomats agreed to restart contacts last November, when Chinese President Xi Jinping briefly met and shook hands with Mr. Abe.
Ms. Park has met Mr. Xi six times since she took office in 2013, in efforts to further strengthen ties with China, South Korea’s largest trade partner which also has unusual leverage with the hard-to-read, nuclear-armed North Korea.
The U.S. wants Japan and South Korea, important allies in the region, to be on better terms to counter China’s growing geopolitical influence, including in the South China Sea, and also to strengthen security cooperation against North Korea.
The U.S. Navy earlier this week sent a warship in its most direct challenge yet to China’s artificial island building that has upset other claimants in the South China Sea, including the Philippines, a close U.S. ally. China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, but Washington says the waters are international territory and must be open for navigation.
While it’s unlikely that anything exceptional will transpire from the Seoul meetings, it’s meaningful that the Northeast Asian neighbours have taken the first step toward overcoming their bitter differences by restoring an environment for higher-level dialogue, said Bong Youngshik, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asian Institute for Policy Studies.
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