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S. Korea, China, Japan to hold foreign ministers' meeting in Beijing next week

South Korea, China and Japan will hold a trilateral meeting of their foreign ministers in Beijing next week to discuss three-way cooperation and regional and international situations, Seoul's foreign ministry said Friday.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) and her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) and her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono (Yonhap)

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Chinese and Japanese counterparts, Wang Yi and Taro Kono, plan to hold talks from Tuesday to Thursday, but they are still coordinating over whether they would meet bilaterally, the ministry said.

The first such gathering since 2016 would come as Seoul and Tokyo are mired in a rancorous spat over trade and history, which has darkened the prospects for their cooperation for regional stability.

"The upcoming meeting is expected to help strengthen the foundation for institutionalizing and fleshing out the system of cooperation among the three countries," the ministry said in a press release.

At the center of attention is whether Kang and Kono will hold bilateral talks to explore a diplomatic solution to their countries' acrimonious conflict.

In his Liberation Day speech on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that he would "gladly join hands" with Japan if it chooses the path of "dialogue and cooperation" -- remarks seen as an olive branch to the neighboring country.

Tensions escalated after Japan imposed tighter restrictions last month on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials key to the production of semiconductors and displays, and stripped Seoul this month of preferential trade status.

Seoul sees the export control measures as political retribution for last year's South Korean Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo maintains that all reparation issues stemming from its colonial rule were settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations. But the top court recognized victims' ndividual rights to claim damages.

The meeting of the three countries' top diplomats was launched in 2007 to promote tripartite cooperation in various areas, including regional security and economy. The meeting was last held in Tokyo in August 2016.

At the envisioned talks, the foreign ministers are also expected to discuss preparations for a possible trilateral summit among Moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe possibly later this year. The last trilateral summit was held in Tokyo in May last year. (Yonhap)