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Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo agree on trilateral cooperation

September 11, 2014
Deputy foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan join hands before they have a trilateral meeting at the Hotel Shilla in Seoul Thursday. From left are Shinsuke Sugiyama from Japan; Lee Kyung-soo from South Korea and Liu Zhenmin from China. (Yonhap)

Deputy foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan join hands before they have a trilateral meeting at the Hotel Shilla in Seoul Thursday. From left are Shinsuke Sugiyama from Japan; Lee Kyung-soo from South Korea and Liu Zhenmin from China. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Senior diplomats from South Korea, China and Japan agreed on Thursday to ramp up their trilateral cooperation to patch up relations strained over history and territorial rows, Seoul officials said.

The meeting brought together Seoul’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Lee Kyung-soo, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and their Japanese counterpart, Shinsuke Sugiyama, they said.

The high-level talks, the first since November, dealt with various cooperative projects to be pursued in 2015, such as maritime cooperation, cyberspace security and nuclear safety, said the foreign ministry officials.

The deputy foreign ministerial level meeting is part of efforts to enhance trilateral cooperation, including meetings between their top leaders and foreign ministers.

“The senior officials reaffirmed the importance of maintaining the three-way cooperation mechanism and agreed to reinvigorate a variety of cooperative projects,” said a South Korean foreign ministry official, asking not to be named. “They also agreed to seek to explore a possible meeting among their foreign ministers within this year.”

The meeting came as Japan’s move to deny its wartime atrocities strained its ties with Seoul and Beijing.

South Korea largely remains positive toward holding a trilateral summit and a foreign ministers’ meeting in hopes of increasing cooperation in the region. But Seoul currently remains cautious about holding a bilateral summit with Japan, angered by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s nationalistic remarks and behaviors.

As territorial disputes and history issues have frayed relations between China and Japan, it may be difficult to hold the trilateral summit and the foreign ministers’ meeting this year, government sources said.

The trilateral summit, which the South Korean president and the prime ministers of China and Japan participate in, usually deals with non-political issues such as economic and cultural ones, but it has not been held since May 2012, mainly due to strained relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

Last year, the three countries skipped the summit and foreign ministers’ meeting, though they held the meeting among senior diplomats in November.

Lee earlier stressed that the trilateral cooperation has an immense importance, not only for the three countries but also for peace and stability in the region as a whole.

“However, it is our grave concern that recent obstacles to the trilateral cooperation that have developed in the region has caused certain abnormality in its process affecting the operation and the future of the mechanism,” Lee said in his opening remarks for the talks.

He expressed hope that the talks can help “reinvigorate the trilateral cooperation, which has been somewhat stagnant” and become “a turning point” for the future of this cooperative mechanism.

His Japanese and Chinese counterparts also agreed on the importance of keeping the momentum for the three-way cooperation alive.

“The three countries’ cooperation seems to have become a major beacon to pave the way for future prosperity, not only for the region but also for the entire international community,” Sugiyama noted.

Liu said that the three countries have been cooperative in various areas, including the economy, trade and cultural exchanges over the past few years, but at the same time, the trilateral cooperation has seen “difficulties and setbacks.”

“Our cooperation has seen difficulties and setbacks, which affected the general atmosphere of trilateral cooperation,” he said, adding that the talks could help revive momentum for practical cooperation.

Lee held bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart earlier Thursday, while he is expected to meet with Sugiyama early Friday, the ministry said.

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