• Kyodo

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A top U.S. diplomat expressed hope Friday that an upcoming meeting of the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea and China could lead to their first trilateral summit despite icy relations in the region.

“Plans are afoot for a three-way ministerial to be held in Korea next month with the expectation of a summit to follow,” Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told an event in Washington.

Sherman said that when she visited the three Asian countries in November, she was impressed by their efforts — “some in public, and some behind the scenes” — to bring the ministerial talks to fruition in March.

However, Sherman said the efforts to boost cooperation among the three powers and with Washington will be tough unless they can overcome their territorial and historical divisions.

“All this is understandable but it can also be frustrating,” Sherman said.

Bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea, both close U.S. allies, have been strained mainly by historical disputes related to Tokyo’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II.

Their issues include Japan’s large-scale use of what it euphemistically calls “comfort women” before and during the war to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers, and the sovereignty of a tiny pair of South Korean-controlled islets that Japan calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokdo.

Japan’s relations with China have also been damaged by historical and territorial disputes, including China’s claim to the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The isles are called Diaoyu by China and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan.

Sherman, however, warned that lashing out at each other is only likely to fuel nationalism.

“It’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy, but such provocations produce paralysis, not progress,” she said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took office in 2012 and 2013, did not hold one-on-one talks until last November due to the disputes.

Similarly, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who was inaugurated in 2013, haven’t held a bilateral meeting yet, though their deputies have been working hard to arrange one.

Abe and Park met in March last year in a trilateral summit in The Hague that was brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama.

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