• Kyodo

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Senior diplomats from Japan and China will meet in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping in July, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Kong Xuanyou, China’s assistant foreign minister, will arrive in Tokyo on Monday for a meeting the next day with Takeo Akiba, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, the ministry said. Kong is considered a strong candidate for next ambassador to Japan.

Behind the move is Tokyo’s desire to work hand-in-hand with Beijing to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which it now believes are “a new level of threat,” sources said Sunday.

The two sides will discuss how to navigate their strained bilateral ties and the chances of Abe and Xi meeting on the margins of the Group of 20 summit of major economies in Hamburg, Germany, from July 7 to 8.

Akiba and Kong are also likely to discuss when to convene a trilateral summit of Japan, China and South Korea that Tokyo is scheduled to chair, and a potential visit to Japan by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Abe and Xi last met in Lima in November, when they agreed that greater efforts should be made to improve relations on the 45th anniversary of their normalization of diplomatic ties this fall.

Abe wants to take advantage of the milestone to hold a bilateral summit either in Japan or China to impress on the world that relations between the two neighbors have made strides.

But it remains to be seen whether Abe’s scenario will materialize, given their differences, including the territorial row over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

On North Korea, Akiba and Kong are likely to confirm bilateral cooperation in preventing Pyongyang from taking more provocative actions, based on the Chinese official’s talks with the reclusive country’s vice foreign minister, Ri Kil Song, in Beijing on March 1, the sources said.

Since 2006, North Korea has carried out five nuclear tests along with numerous ballistic missile tests. Another nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test could be held soon.

As a Japan hand at the Foreign Ministry, Kong is responsible for China’s Japan policy under Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It will be his first visit to Japan since he the vice foreign ministerial talks held here in February 2016.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda met Kong in China in mid-March and affirmed the need to deal squarely with outstanding bilateral issues.

In Seoul on Monday, the Defense Ministry said it will join the United States and Japan for a combined three-day naval exercise to better cope with North Korea’s growing submarine threats.

The exercise, which started the same day and which will be held in waters between Japan and South Korea near Jeju Island, will be the first under an agreement made by the three countries at a security meeting last December, ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said during a press briefing.

“The exercise has been designed to demonstrate (the three countries’) strong resolve to respond to North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats, including its advancing capabilities of sea-launched ballistic missiles,” Moon said.

The exercise comes amid reports North Korea is preparing to carry out its sixth nuclear test and more missile launches.

Moon declined to provide further details, but Yonhap News Agency said the South Korean Navy will dispatch the 4,500-ton destroyer Kang Gam Chan and a Lynx helicopter.

The United States will mobilize the Aegis-equipped destroyer USS McCampbell, an MH-60 anti-submarine chopper and a P-3 Orion patrol plane.

The Japanese helicopter destroyer Sawagiri will also join the drill, the report said.

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