The foreign ministers of South Korea, China and Japan will meet on Saturday in Seoul for the first time in nearly three years in a bid to restore cooperation between the three Asian economic powers, South Korea's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
“The Seventh South Korea-Japan-China Foreign Ministers' meeting will take place in Seoul on March 21. The meeting is the first in about three years since April 2012,” said South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il at a regular news briefing.
South Korea and China's ties with Japan have chilled over what they view as Japan's reluctance to properly atone for its wartime past. Both South Korea and China also have territorial disputes with Japan.
But ties between China and Japan have shown signs of warming over recent months and South Korea's foreign ministry said senior officials from the three countries had met recently and the foreign ministers aimed to put trilateral cooperation back on track.
Noh also expressed the government's hope to resume the three-way summit meeting between leaders of South Korea, Japan and China.
“The trilateral summit meeting should be proceeded depending on outcomes of the meeting between foreign ministers. However, we hope the summit will be held,” Noh added.
Three-way summit meetings, which had been held annually from 2008, have been on hold since May 2012.
The foreign ministers' meeting would signal progress in the push to restore three-way ties amid pressure from South Korea and China for Japanese leaders to take steps to show they fully recognize the country's past during World War II.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has yet to have a formal meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said this month Japan was an important partner which shared the principle of free democracy and market economy.
South Korea has accused Japan of trying to “undermine” an apology issued in 1993 to Asian women forced to work as wartime sex slaves in Japanese brothels, known as “comfort women”, by conducting a review of it last year.
Abe and Park met briefly with President Barack Obama, who is seen as trying to mend ties between the two U.S. allies, a year ago at a nuclear security summit.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan was looking at the foreign ministers' meeting as a way to bring about the trilateral summit of the countries' leaders.
“We attach importance to this in that we also hope that this meeting of Sino-South Korean-Japanese foreign ministers meeting can also bring about a summit of our leaders,” Suga told a news conference on Tuesday.
China's foreign ministry said the three ministers would exchange views on the development of ties, and that China and Japan were in talks about their own bilateral meeting.
“When attending the China-Japan-South Korea foreign ministers meetings, foreign ministers from the three countries normally would have talks with one another, and exchange views on trilateral cooperation, bilateral ties, and regional and international issues. China and Japan are in talks about relevant arrangement,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing.
Japan's ties with China also remain frosty despite Abe meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time last November at an Asia-Pacific forum.
Both China and Japan claim a tiny group of islets in the East China Sea, while South Korea and Japan have a separate dispute over tiny islands.