A summit between China, Japan and South Korea clearly showed who can work with whom and why. In future, it will take place annually. DW's Frank Sieren says this is an important step.
It took over three years for China, Japan and South Korea to sit once again at the same table. It was more a question of positions being redressed than one of tough negotiations at the summit between Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul. Abe tried to work himself out of the defense corner. Since he took office at the end of 2012 not only have Japanese relations with China cooled significantly, but so has the relationship with South Korea. For a while, it seemed as if the only thing in common was the alliance with the US.
It was the first time that Abe and Park had met face to face since taking office, whereas Park and Xi have met six times since the beginning of 2013. South Korea and China signed a free trade deal in June.
The summit is a sign that relations will improve in future, including with Japan. Abe said that the trilateral cooperation mechanism was back on course and indicated that Japan would play host for next year's summit.
Annual meeting in future
The decision was also made to resume annual summits. This is an important step. Moreover, the three will continue to work towards a common free trade agreement and will pursue their goal to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Against a backdrop of territorial disputes between Japan and China over the East China Sea and between Japan and South Korea over island groups in the South China Sea, President Park pointed out the significance of this meeting: "This summit meeting carries a historic significance because it restores a system of cooperation among the three countries, which in turn is an important frame of peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia."
Li and Abe did not contradict her. The fact that the relations have come so far is largely due to Beijing and Seoul's diplomatic far-sightedness - they avoided adding fuel to the fire. In the past, China and South Korea have accused the Japanese government of trivializing war crimes from the Second World War. In their joint statement, the leaders of Asia's three major economic powers said that they would work for regional peace and stability "in the spirit of marching to the future while looking squarely at the history."
Good relationship between South Korea and China
Even if the atmosphere seems to be thawing somewhat, South Korea's Park made it very clearly to whom she feels closer. A state banquet was held for China's prime minister but there was not even a dinner for Japan's. The face to face meeting between Park and Abe was frosty, whereas China and South Korea have been holding smooth business and political talks for the past two years. So smooth that the US wants to make sure it is not forgotten.
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter travelled to the border between North and South Korea during the summit. South Korea's news agency reported that he wanted to call on North Korea to return to the six-party talks between North Korea, the US, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, which have not taken place since 2009.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years