Chinese, Japanese Leaders Head to Seoul for First Trilateral Summit Since 2019

Dorothy Li
By Dorothy Li
May 26, 2024China News
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Chinese, Japanese Leaders Head to Seoul for First Trilateral Summit Since 2019
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (C) arrives at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam on May 26, 2024.(Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

The leaders of China and Japan touched down in Seoul on May 26 to participate in a three-way summit with South Korea’s president.

The upcoming three-way meetings came as Japan and South Korea bolstered security and economic ties with the United States in the face of increasing threats from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its ally, North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol held separate meetings with the visiting Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday before having a welcoming dinner banquet together in Seoul. Their trilateral talks are set for May 27.

The formal summit also marks the first time in over four years that the leaders of the three neighbors have sat down for face-to-face discussions.

In 2008, leaders of the three economies that accounted for about a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product agreed to convene a meeting annually. But the meeting has stalled since the last one in December 2019 in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu due to the COVID-19 pandemic and complex ties among the three countries.

Topics among the latest high-level meetings’ agenda include people-to-people exchanges, climate change, trade, health issues, technology, and disaster responses, South Korea’s official said.

“This meeting will serve as a turning point for the three countries to completely restore and normalize the cooperative system,” South Korean Deputy National Security Director Kim Tae-hyo said during a May 23 briefing as he announced the summit.

Before heading to South Korea on Sunday, the Japanese Prime Minister told reporters that he expected to have “candid and straightforward discussions” with Mr. Yoon and Mr. Li and “see eye to eye on future-oriented practical cooperation.”

‘Serious Concern’ about Taiwan

Ahead of the three-way meetings, Mr. Kishida had a separate meeting with Mr. Li in Seoul. According to the readout released by China’s state broadcaster CCTV, the meeting touched upon issues including Taiwan and Japan’s release of “nuclear-contaminated” wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Japanese government has said the water is safe, and the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), agreed.

In a July 2023 report submitted to the Japanese government, the agency concluded that the retreated wastewater would have a “negligible radiological impact” on people and the environment. The IAEA gave a green light to Japan’s discharge plan and the European Union decided to lift restrictions on Japanese seafood imports.

The CCP, however, announced a blanket ban on the imports of all aquatic products imported from Japan in August 2023, shortly after Japan began pumping over a million metric tons of retreated water into the Pacific Ocean. The sweeping ban has sparked criticism among international communities and fishing industries, with some experts suggesting political calculations are likely behind Beijing’s decision.

Speaking at a briefing following the bilateral meeting with Mr. Li, Mr. Kishida said he has urged the Chinese side to lift a ban on Japanese seafood immediately.

Mr. Kishida also used the meeting to convey Japan’s “serious concern” about Beijing’s recent military expansion, emphasizing that Tokyo believes stability in the Taiwan Strait is “crucial” not only for the region but also for the international community.

news coverage of China's military drills
An outdoor screen shows a news coverage of China’s military drills around Taiwan, in Beijing on May 23, 2024. (Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images)

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait heightened last week as the CCP staged large-scale exercises in the sea and air spaces around Taiwan, a self-ruled island that the communist regime claimed as its own territory. The war games involving the Chinese navy, air force, and rocket forces started on May 23, just days after the democratic-governed island saw its new president, Lai Ching-te, sworn in, drawing criticism from the United States and European Union.

Mr. Kishida said Japan is “closely monitoring recent military developments” in the Taiwan Strait.

North Korea Concerns

Before the meeting with Mr. Li, Mr. Kishida held bilateral talks with his South Korean counterpart. The two leaders discussed situations related to North Korea and agreed to strengthen cooperation with the United States, Mr. Kishida said,

According to South Korea’s president’s office, Mr. Yeol and Mr. Kishida raised specific concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear force. The Kim Jong Un regime has launched various weapon tests in recent years, including firing intercontinental ballistic missiles with a potential capability to reach the U.S. mainland.

NTD Photo
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (R) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) prior to a bilateral meeting at Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea on May 26, 2024. (Ahn Young-Joon/Pool/Getty Images)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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