Japan, China and South Korea have agreed that their foreign ministers will hold talks in Seoul by the end of the year, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
The meeting, which would be the first since April 2012, is expected to set the stage for Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Park Geun-hye to meet in the first half of 2015, the sources said.
Abe’s summit meeting on Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first since the prime minister took office in 2012, has apparently bolstered the likelihood of a thaw in relations among the three Asian countries, whose governments differ over historical issues and territorial disputes.
Officials from the three countries are expected to work out details and set a date. If the talks are held, it will be Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s first visit to South Korea in his current role.
The diplomatic sources said Kishida proposed holding such a trilateral meeting when he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Saturday.
During a lower house panel session on Wednesday, Kishida said: “I’d like to welcome the fact that China and South Korea have been responding in a positive manner.”
In a related move, China’s Xi and South Korea’s Park also said on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing on Monday that the foreign ministers of the three countries should meet by the end of the year.
If realized, Kishida, Wang and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se will likely discuss deepening trilateral cooperation on trade and the environment, and confirm the need for their leaders to meet at an early date, the sources said.
Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has not held a trilateral summit with the leaders of China and South Korea. Tokyo remains at odds with Beijing over the sovereignty of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are claimed by Taiwan and by China, where they are called Diaoyu.
Tokyo and Seoul are involved in a dispute over the sovereignty of the Dokdo islets in the Sea of Japan, which are controlled by South Korea. Japan refers to the islets as Takeshima.