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China, Japan and South Korea highlight unity amid North Korea moves

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised efforts by Mr Moon and China to engage North Korea and said further efforts on denuclearisation were essential. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

[TOKYO] The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea agreed on Wednesday to cooperate in seeking peace on the Korean peninsula against the backdrop of historic diplomatic moves by North Korea and a push for the isolated country to give up its nuclear weapons.

North Korea figured prominently in talks between the three leaders in Tokyo after South Korean President Moon Jae In's historic meeting last month with the North's Kim Jong Un.

Mr Kim is expected to have a summit soon with US President Donald Trump.

Leaders of the three Asian powers, whose ties have at times been strained by territorial and historical disputes, also touched on economics, in the face of US trade pressure on China and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised efforts by Mr Moon and China to engage North Korea and said further efforts on denuclearisation were essential.

"We must take the recent momentum towards denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula and towards peace and security in North-east Asia, and, cooperating even further with international society, make sure this is linked to concrete action by North Korea," Mr Abe told a news conference after the meeting.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also attended the three-way summit, which was last held in Seoul in 2015.

Mr Moon said the three countries agreed to highlight unity as the two Koreas moved towards a permanent peace settlement.

"Above all we reached the consensus that complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, a permanent peace settlement and improvement of South-North relations is very important for peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia," Mr Moon said.

In bilateral talks with Mr Moon later on Wednesday, Mr Abe expressed Japan's concern that pressure on North Korea might be lifted too early as a "reward" for its shutting down its nuclear test site or halting missile launches.

Mr Abe called for additional, specific action, a spokesman for South Korea's presidential office said in a Tokyo briefing.

Mr Moon assured Mr Abe that no such steps would be taken without conferring with the United Nations, the United States and others.

Trade Pressure and Deals

Mr Trump's trade pressure on China and Japan, the world's second and third-largest economies, appeared to have had an impact as Mr Li urged swifter discussions on regional free trade deals, such as a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership backed by Beijing.

"We are all beneficiaries of free trade and even though various issues have emerged, these should not stand in the way," Mr Li said. "Through actual behaviour, let's show that we three nations support engaging in free trade."

Later, before a bilateral meeting as part of Mr Li's state visit to Japan - the first such visit by a Chinese premier since 2010 - Mr Abe said he wanted to raise bilateral ties to a new level and visit China later this year.

China and Japan are set to strengthen economic ties by signing a currency swap deal during Mr Li's visit.

As the meeting's host, Mr Abe has won an opportunity to project himself in a leadership role, and move beyond domestic woes such as suspected cronyism scandals, falling support rates and calls for his finance minister to quit.

Japan fears it may be left out of North Korean negotiations, with Mr Abe and Mr Kim yet to set up a summit.

In comments aimed at a domestic audience, Mr Abe told the news conference Japan would normalise ties with North Korea if the issue of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang to train spies, a key plank of his political platform, was comprehensively resolved.

REUTERS

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