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China, Japan and S. Korea foreign ministers hold talks after three-year break

Topics of regional significance were on the agenda as foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea met for the first time in nearly three years. The gathering came amid several historical and territorial disputes.

Saturday's ministerial meeting in the South Korean capital, Seoul, was partly aimed at restoring what was once an annual leadership summit between the three countries, the South Korean foreign minister said ahead of the gathering.

"Efforts are necessary to create the conditions for the summit meeting to be realized," Yun Byung-se (left above) told South Korean media this week.

The last three-way summit and the last meeting of foreign ministers were held in mid-2012, with a number of historical and diplomatic issues complicating relations.

In a joint statement, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se and his Chinese and Japanese counterparts, Wang Yi and Fumio Kishida, said they had agreed to work towards a three-way summit of their respective leaders "at the earliest convenient time."

Saturday's gathering started with a series of bilateral talks. South Korean President Park Geun-hye also attended the meeting.

Fraught ties with Japan

China and South Korea, who themselves have experienced a recent upswing in bilateral relations, both continue to accuse Japan of failing atone sufficiently for its wartime actions, including the colonization of the Korean peninsula and occupation of parts of China before and during the Second World War.

Both Beijing and Seoul are also embroiled in territorial disputes with Tokyo over islands.

However, there has been continued cooperation at the working level, with Japan and China recently holding their first security talks for four years.

Perceived threats

Saturday's talks are not expected to make headway on sensitive diplomatic and territorial disputes, but are likely to touch on other issues of global and regional significance.

Among these is the question of whether Seoul and Tokyo will join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multinational development bank that Washington sees as a threat to the World Bank, which it oversees.

Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, however,have all given the bank their backing, and Chinese officials say it will not weaken established institutions, but complement them.

Both Japan and Seoul have said they are considering joining the bank, though Tokyo remains cautious on the issue. It is expected to be formally established by the end of the year.

Another matter likely to be on the agenda of the three ministers is the US-backed ballistic missile defense system that the US wants to deploy in South Korea with the declared aim of countering the nuclear missile threat from North Korea.

China has warned that the system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), could undermine the peace and stability of the region.

The ministers also held bilateral meetings ahead of the three-way gathering later in the day.

tj/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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