Foreign ministers from China, Japan and South Korea will meet in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday , their ministries said on Monday, amid rising tensions among the three countries over territorial disputes and regional security.
“Cooperation among China, Japan and South Korea is significant to the region,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
“We hope the trilateral meeting can [help maintain] the cooperation and work towards the goal of setting up an economic community by 2020.”
Lu did not respond to a question on whether Foreign Minister Wang Yi would hold a bilateral meeting on the sidelines with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, but said that the summit “has nothing to do with bilateral meetings”.
A senior Japanese foreign ministry official said last month that Japan was considering hosting the trilateral meeting, normally an annual event, in late August. But a flare-up in Sino-Japanese tensions over the Diaoyu Islands since then had stoked worries that the meeting might not take place.
Japan controls the islands, which it calls the Senkakus, but both nations claim sovereignty over them.
China has sent record numbers of vessels close to the islands in recent weeks, putting further strain on ties with Japan.
On Sunday, Japan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba had told reporters after attending a working-level meeting with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo that the three sides had failed to fix a meeting of foreign ministers.
Relations between China and South Korea have also been tested recently by Seoul’s decision to deploy the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile shield, which Seoul says is needed to defend against North Korea’s missile programme.
Chinese observers said the foreign ministers of the three countries would face an uphill task at the upcoming summit to address some major challenges facing the three Asian powers.
“With a strengthened alliance among Japan, South Korea and the US, the situation has become unfavourable to China and has made coordination among the three countries increasingly difficult,” said Huang Dahui, director of the East Asia Studies Centre at Renmin University.
But another Chinese observer said he remained optimistic about the development.
“The trilateral summit has been held every year without fail, even after the Japanese government nationalised the Senkaku Islands in 2012,” said Lian Degui, a professor of Japanese studies at the Shanghai International Studies University.