Trilateral summit in Seoul gets green light

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Trilateral summit in Seoul gets green light

The biggest barrier to a Korea-China-Japan summit was removed when China agreed to Korea’s proposal to host a trilateral meeting in the coming months, fueling anticipation of a thaw in the frozen Korea-Japan relations.

President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a summit Wednesday that the trilateral summit should take place soon in Korea, possibly in late October or early November.

The three countries held annual trilateral summits from 2008 to 2012, but then they stopped as both China and Korea grew chilly toward the Shinzo Abe administration. In November last year, Park proposed to revive the meetings.

If the summit goes through, Park will have her first official meeting with Abe. As relations between Korea and Japan worsened, no bilateral summit has been held since November 2011. The last Korea-Japan summit took place between then-President Lee Myung-bak and then-Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Speculation is high that a bilateral summit between Park and Abe will be arranged on the sidelines of the trilateral summit. Korea has been trying over the past months to resume the trilateral summits and Japan welcomed the proposal. China, however, was lukewarm until Xi agreed to Park’s proposal Wednesday.

“Korea worked steadily in the middle,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “Park has vowed to restore trilateral cooperation through her trip to China, so it should be seen as an accomplishment.”

Japan reacted positively. In an interview with NHK, a Japanese government official said Tokyo was notified about the agreement at the summit. “But we have not reached an agreement on a date,” he said. “Because holding the talks at the earliest date before the end of this year was the goal, we see this as a positive development.”

Some of the agenda for the summit has been prepared already. A trilateral summit requires a round of vice-ministerial talks and a round of ministerial talks to settle the key issues, and the three countries held those talks in Seoul last March.

Park administration officials have said politically volatile issues such as historical and territorial disputes will be avoided and the leaders will focus on economic and social cooperation. If North Korea stages a provocation - such as a missile test to coincide with the Oct. 10 anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party - the three leaders could discuss that.

Korea will be represented by President Park and Japan by Prime Minister Abe, but China will send Premier Li Keqiang rather than President Xi.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not announce the decision to hold a trilateral summit in its release, calling the summit between Park and Xi Wednesday, an obvious snub of Tokyo.

“Korea and China announced the outcome separately, instead of issuing a joint statement,” said Joo Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and security. “It is called coordinated press guidance. The two sides coordinated the general direction but briefed the press separately from their own perspectives.”

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