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China, Japan, South Korea’s foreign ministers to ‘meet next week’ in first Tokyo gathering in 5 years

China, Japan and South Korea’s foreign ministers are planning to hold talks next week in Tokyo, Japanese government sources said on Wednesday, aimed at paving the way for a leaders’ meeting next month.

The three countries are looking to hold the ministerial meeting on August 23 and 24, the first such gathering to be held in Japan in more than five years.

The ministers are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programmes, the sources said.

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The ministers are also likely to commit to strengthening economic cooperation, including negotiations towards finalising a three-nation free trade agreement.

Japan’s ties with China and South Korea have been under strain in recent years due to territorial disputes and allegations that it has not sufficiently atoned for atrocities carried out during the second world war.

The talks could serve as a springboard for a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit next month in Hangzhou, China, the sources said.

Abe and Xi have held just two one-to-one meetings since both took power in 2012.

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The visit to Japan by China’s Wang Yi will be the first by a Chinese foreign minister under Xi’s leadership.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida plans to hold separate talks with Wang and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se next week, the sources said.

Kishida is likely to encourage Beijing to exercise restraint following the repeated sailing of Chinese government vessels into waters near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which China also claims.

Kishida is expected to convey to Yun Tokyo’s desire to further mend ties with South Korea following an agreement in December last year on women who were forced to work in brothels for the Japanese military before and during the second world war.

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The South Korean government launched a foundation last month in the wake of the agreement to support former “comfort women”.

Kishida called late last month for the three-nation ministerial talks to be held in Japan before the end of the year.

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