BANGKOK – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday that China is planning to hold a trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea next month in the southern city of Chengdu, according to a senior Japanese government official.
The summit, held annually on a rotating basis by Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, has occasionally been suspended during periods when relations between Japan and its two neighbors have chilled due to historical and territorial disputes, and when there has been political turmoil in South Korea.
Li’s remarks came amid lingering concern over whether the three East Asian nations would be able to set a date for the summit this year, with ties between Japan and South Korea frayed by a dispute over wartime compensation and trade.
Trilateral cooperation “would contribute to the world,” Li was quoted by the Japanese official as having told Abe at their meeting on the sidelines of gatherings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok. Tensions between Japan and South Korea have escalated since late last year, when South Korea’s top court ordered a Japanese company to pay compensation for forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
During their meeting Monday — their first in around a year — Li and Abe also agreed that the two countries would step up coordination for a planned state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan next spring, the official told reporters.
Abe, meanwhile, took up politically sensitive issues such as Hong Kong and China’s recent detention of a Japanese professor.
With months-long pro-democracy protests escalating in the former British colony, Abe urged Li to resolve unrest in the city in a “peaceful manner” through dialogue, while effectively calling on Beijing to release the professor, who was arrested in China last month for alleged spying.
Li and Abe also exchanged views on regional affairs, including the East China Sea and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the Japanese official said. North Korea has recently resumed missile launches amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. Beijing is Pyongyang’s closest and most influential ally, while Tokyo has no diplomatic relations with the regime.
Abe has expressed his readiness to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong Un “without conditions” in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough over the issue of Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan-China relations have also seen strain over wartime history and territory but the two neighbors now describe their ties as having “returned to a normal track.” In a sign of the thaw, the two neighbors have promoted reciprocal visits by their leaders. Abe traveled to Beijing in October last year and Xi visited Osaka in June for the Group of 20 summit, where he held one-on-one talks with Abe.
Tokyo and Beijing have basically agreed on a visit by Xi next spring, with Abe inviting the Chinese head of state to come “when the cherry blossoms bloom.”