China held a three-way summit with South Korea and Japan Tuesday aimed at presenting a united front to counter North Korea's resurgent belligerence.
Premier Li Kequiang welcomed South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the southwestern city of Chengdu, two days ahead of a so-called "Christmas gift" from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim is demanding new concessions from the United States by the end of the year in exchange for restarting the stalled negotiations aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear program.
In his opening remarks, President Moon said the increased tensions "in no way benefits either of our countries or North Korea."
The trilateral meeting was also held amid an escalating dispute between Seoul and Tokyo over recent court rulings in South Korea ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work in Japanese plants during World War Two.
South Koreans are still bitter over Japan's brutal military rule of the Korean peninsula that lasted from 1910 until 1945, when Japan surrendered to Allied forces to end the war. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were subjected to numerous atrocities during the occupation, including the so-called "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels.
Tokyo says the reparations issue was resolved with a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral relations between the nations. Tokyo has complained that subsequent South Korean governments have not accepted further Japanese apologies and attempts to make amends.
The dispute has spilled over into bilateral trade relations, with both nations removing each other from their so-called "white list" of nations enjoying minimal trade restrictions.