TOKYO (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived in Japan on Wednesday to join leaders from Japan and China in a summit that is expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and on improving the sometimes-frayed ties among the three northeast Asian neighbors.
Japanese officials say the meeting comes at a crucial time, sandwiched between an inter-Korean summit and planned talks between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Wednesday’s summit is the seventh since the three-way meetings started in 2008 but only the first since 2015. It also follows Kim’s surprise visit this week to China’s northern port city of Dalian for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Moon is expected to brief Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang about his April 27 summit with Kim.
The leaders of North and South Korea agreed to work toward reconciliation, but didn’t achieve any breakthroughs in North Korea’s denuclearization.
Analysts say Japan is trying to showcase improved ties and cooperation with China and South Korea so its views will be represented in any negotiations with North Korea.
Japanese officials hope the trilateral summit will produce a joint statement seeking North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible abandonment of nuclear weapons, affirming China’s and South Korea’s support for the return of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea decades ago, and promoting a three-way free trade agreement.
Abe told a parliamentary session Tuesday that he hoped to have an “in-depth discussion of North Korea problems” at the meeting to seek a comprehensive solution.
Differences remain over how to pursue North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said Friday the summit would focus on three-way cooperation rather than the North Korea issue.
Abe will also hold talks separately with Moon and Li. Japanese officials said they plan to propose a free and peaceful East China Sea, but do not plan to raise contentious issues such as South Korean “comfort women” forced to provide sex to Japan’s wartime military.
Moon is to leave Japan after half a day. After that, Abe will host a dinner and lunch for Li and join him on the northern island of Hokkaido on the final day of his four-day Japan visit.
Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said they want to improve Japan’s strained relations with China, with the eventual goal of realizing a visit by Xi. Li is China’s No. 2 official, after Xi.
While Japan, China and South Korea are closely linked economically, anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep in China and South Korea because of territorial and historical disputes dating back to Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula and invasion of China in the first half of the 20th century.
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