CHENGDU, CHINA – Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders agreed Tuesday to strengthen trilateral coordination to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea, with Pyongyang stepping up provocative rhetoric against the United States and their nuclear talks remaining at a standstill.
China, the chair of this year’s trilateral gathering, hopes issues on the Korean Peninsula will be resolved “through dialogue,” said the country’s premier, Li Keqiang, at a joint press conference following his summit with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was important to “keep up the momentum” of talks between the United States and North Korea, adding that U.N. Security Council resolutions against Pyongyang should be “fully” implemented.
Meeting in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, Abe, Li and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also discussed closer economic cooperation.
Li said China, Japan and South Korea had agreed to accelerate negotiations on a three-way free trade agreement and the wider Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes 13 other nations.
The North Korea issue was high on their agenda ahead of an approaching year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for the United States to make progress in stalled denuclearization talks.
Pyongyang has overseen a spate of launches of what appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles this year in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, putting its neighbors on high alert.
Concerns have grown that it may test an intercontinental ballistic missile if negotiations with Washington fail to achieve a breakthrough by the end of the year.
The United States, which favors maintaining international economic sanctions against Pyongyang, has been calling on North Korea to continue to abide by its commitments to denuclearize and refrain from testing long-range ballistic missiles.
In an attempt to prevent the situation on the divided peninsula from escalating, China — North Korea’s closest and most influential ally — has expressed readiness to ease international economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
Together with Russia, it submitted to the U.N. Security Council earlier this month a draft resolution aimed at loosening sanctions against North Korea.
Abe also sought cooperation from the other leaders on resolving the long-standing issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Japanese officials. The issue has long been a top priority for Abe.
Ahead of the summit, Moon expressed vigilance about increasing strains on the Korean Peninsula during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday.
“The recent situations, in which dialogue between North Korea and the United States has been suspended and tensions on the Korean Peninsula are being heightened, are not beneficial to both of our countries and North Korea,” Moon told Xi, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
The tripartite framework is not limited to security and economic issues. The Asian neighbors have been seeking to deepen cooperation in a range of areas that include tourism, health care and disaster prevention.
China is hosting the latest round of the leaders’ meeting, first held in 1999. The framework has been sensitive to changes in the political climate among the three nations.
Japan’s ties with China have been improving markedly in recent years after issues related to wartime history and territory had cooled them.
In contrast, ties between Japan and South Korea are now at the lowest point in years due to a spat over compensation for wartime labor that has also affected trade and security issues.