• Kyodo

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Japan has sounded out China and South Korea about holding a trilateral summit in late July in Tokyo, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

The summit between the three countries would be the first since one held in November 2015 in Seoul.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes to strengthen cooperation with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts to address threats from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs while accelerating preparations for a visit to China he aims to arrange early next year, the sources said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who has not visited Japan since taking office in 2012, is expected to attend the summit.

While South Korean President Moon Jae-in, inaugurated last month, has expressed his hope to meet with Abe in the near future, China may not immediately decide whether to accept Japan’s offer as it is still gauging the South Korean administration’s policy stance toward Beijing and Tokyo, the sources said.

Abe is likely to ask for cooperation in setting up the trilateral summit at an envisioned meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany early next month.

As next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of the treaty of peace and friendship between Japan and China, Abe’s government also wants to pave the way for Xi’s first visit to Japan in about 10 years.

The diplomatic sources said Tokyo has recently told Beijing and Seoul that it is considering hosting a trilateral summit sometime between July 19 and 21 or July 24 and 26.

China is scheduled to hold the Communist Party congress this fall — a gathering held once every five years where many members of the party committee are expected to be replaced.

The Japanese government believes that holding a trilateral summit in July would not cause a conflict with China’s busy political schedule, the sources said.

Japan, China and South Korea held a foreign ministerial meeting in Tokyo in August 2016. Japan is due to host the next summit, but a plan to hold one last year was dropped due to political turmoil in South Korea.

The three countries have been rotating summit hosting duties since 2008, although the gathering was not held in 2013 or 2014 after a chill in Japan-China relations.

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