Korea brokers tripartite meet with Japan, China

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Korea brokers tripartite meet with Japan, China


President Lee Myung-bak, sixth from left, joins hands with leaders of Asian countries for a photo at the 13th Association of Southeast Asian Nations-South Korea summit held at the International Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, yesterday. [YONHAP]

HANOI - Through Korea’s mediation, the leaders of Japan, China and Korea held a rare trilateral summit yesterday evening to discuss issues in a free-style discussion.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had no plan to meet in bilateral talks on the sidelines of a regional summit in Vietnam. But President Lee Myung-bak brokered a meeting among the Asian superpowers to discuss sensitive bilateral issues, along with regional topics, a Blue House official said.

“In the closed-door session, the three leaders will exchange their opinions freely without prearranged agendas,” the official said before the meeting took place. “The three countries’ cooperation is very important not only for the region, but also for the world’s peace and prosperity. The trilateral meeting, therefore, is coming at a significant time, as it takes place at a time of soured relation between [Japan and China].”

The official said Japan had proposed a bilateral summit with China, but was rebuffed. The two countries’ foreign ministers, however, met yesterday.

While no agenda was set for the three-way summit, speculation was rampant that Japan wanted to discuss Beijing’s recent blocking of exports of rare-earth minerals. The 17 minerals are critical in the manufacture of almost all advanced industrial products, ranging from missiles to cell phones. China controls 97 percent of the world’s supply of so-called “rare earths.”

The export ban was prompted by a recently renewed territorial dispute between Japan and China over an island chain called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Concerns have grown since about China’s willingness to use its economic clout in political or diplomatic disputes.

The three leaders were also expected to reconfirm their efforts to open a secretariat office for Korea-Japan-China cooperation next year, as agreed during their last summit in Jeju in May, the Blue House said yesterday.

Lee, who arrived here Thursday, began yesterday’s diplomatic itinerary with a bilateral summit with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Korea and India’s cooperation in the G-20 Summit was discussed, along with the two countries’ rapidly expanding ties. In January, Korea and India upgraded their relationship to a “strategic partnership” and a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement also took effect.

“Korea’s trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations amounts to about $100 billion, but Korea-India trade only amounts to about $12 billion,” said a Blue House official. “The two leaders discussed efforts to expand trade.” Nuclear energy cooperation between the two countries was also discussed.

Leaders of Asean member countries, Korea, Japan and China also discussed yesterday cooperating to fight economic, financial and food security crises. During the so-called Asean Plus Three summit, Lee praised the members’ efforts to build a financial cooperation network, including the Chiang Mai Multilateralization Initiative, which was launched in March with a $120 billion foreign-currency reserve pool. Lee also praised the members’ efforts to create an emergency reserve of 800,000 tons of rice to stabilize rice supplies in Asia.

The Korea-Asean summit also took place yesterday, and Lee and leaders of Asean’s 10 member nations agreed to upgrade their ties to a strategic partnership. A joint declaration and an action plan to implement the strategic partnership between Korea and Asean were announced yesterday. Lee also proposed a meeting of foreign ministers from Korea and Mekong River basin countries.

On the sidelines of the regional summit, Lee also met briefly with President Benigno S. Aquino III of the Philippines. Today, Lee will meet with Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Minh Triet for a bilateral summit. A meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also planned for today.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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