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China, Japan, S Korea may hold trilateral summit
IN an apparent thawing of strained relations across North-east Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye are likely to hold a summit meeting later this year while, separately, Russian president Vladimir Putin may visit Japan, according to Japanese media reports at the weekend.
The prospective meetings come as the region prepares for a series of anniversaries mainly linked to the end of World War II, which analysts see as an opportunity for reconciliation among the major North-east Asian powers or as likely to spur increased tension if insufficient goodwill is shown on all sides.
The most critical link in the trilateral relationship is that between China and Japan. "I think both countries realise that they cannot continue like this (with strained relations). It does not make any sense," Xing Yuqing, a professor at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies told The Business Times.
Relations between Seoul and Beijing are seen as good, and continue to strengthen as South Korea's economic dependence on China grows. But relations between Seoul and Tokyo remain cool owing to friction over the so-called "comfort women" issue and over territorial disputes.
Japan and South Korea are approaching the 50th anniversary of re-establishing diplomatic ties, but it remains unclear whether they can resolve the comfort women dispute over Korean women who served in what were effectively brothels catering to Japanese armed forces during World War II.
Some cause for optimism arose on Sunday, however, when Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held talks in Tokyo with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se, who was making the first visit to Japan by a South Korean foreign minister in four years.
This was also the first trip to Japan by South Korea's chief diplomat under the administration of Ms Park, who has rebuffed holding summit talks with Mr Abe since both took office, Ms Park in 2013 and Mr Abe in 2012, Kyodo reported.
At a briefing last Friday, Mr Kishida said that the South Korean foreign minister's visit to Japan under the Park government had major significance. "Naturally, we will discuss various bilateral issues, but we want to hold a frank exchange of opinions on North Korea and other international issues," he said.
Mr Yun's visit is the latest sign of a building rapprochement between South Korea and Japan. Last month, the first bilateral meetings were held by their finance ministers since 2012, and by their defence ministers in four years, reports said.
Seen as most critical, meanwhile, among the World War II-related anniversary events is the speech that Mr Abe is due to deliver in August on the 70th anniversary of the ending of the war.
Prof Xing noted that Sino-Japan relations have been improving recently with "increased bilateral exchanges at various levels" including Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso's recent visit to Beijing to attend a finance ministers' meeting there.
"I guess that from the Chinese side, improving Sino-Japan relations is important - but I think that Prime Minister Abe's speech (in August) will be crucial," he told BT.
Rapprochement between Japan and South Korea would ease the path for a trilateral summit involving the leaders of the two countries plus China, said Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbunat the weekend.
China, Japan and South Korea are considering holding their first trilateral summit in three years - probably in South Korea - offering a potential stage for the first one-on-one meeting between Tokyo and Seoul's leaders, the business daily reported on Saturday.
"The talks would resume cooperation among East Asia's three biggest economies that had been on hold since 2012 because of territorial disputes and what Seoul and Beijing see as Japan's reluctance to confront its wartime past," the Nikkei said.
Russia's Mr Putin has meanwhile expressed willingness to hold a meeting with Japan's prime minister, Kyodo news service reported at the weekend.
In a meeting with heads of the world's largest international news agencies in St Petersburg, the Russian leader highlighted the need "to discuss a decades-old territorial dispute", Kyodo said, referring to bilateral negotiations over four disputed islands, located in Russia's Far East and claimed by Japan.
Mr Putin said that "he believes that it is possible to resolve the issue", the report said.
China's President Xi was on the stand at the recent victory parade in Moscow marking the end of the war. Mr Putin is expected to attend the victory parade to be held in Beijing, Kent Calder, director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at SAIS/Johns Hopkins University in Washington told The Business Times.
"This must be driving Mr Abe's rather transparent desire to invite Russia to the G-8 summit next year and to revive relations with Russia through a Putin visit to Japan," he added.