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China touts common ground with US allies Japan, South Korea

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China touted common ground with US allies Japan and South Korea as their top diplomats met in Beijing for their first such three-way talks since 2016.

[BEIJING] China touted common ground with US allies Japan and South Korea as their top diplomats met in Beijing for their first such three-way talks since 2016.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the North Asian countries pledged Wednesday to work together to support free trade and maintain regional growth. They reaffirmed their commitment to creating a free-trade zone between them and complete negotiations by the end of the year on the 16-nation Asian trade pact known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

"With downward pressure on the global economy, the three important economies of China, Japan and South Korea can enhance macroeconomic coordination and work together to uphold the free trading system," Mr Wang said, flanked by counterparts Taro Kono of Japan and Kang Kyung Wha of South Korea. "We will ensure open economy in interest of global growth and prosperity."

The three neighbours face rising economic anxiety as President Donald Trump upends the US's traditional role as a defender of a free trade system that has supported the rapid growth of their export-dependent economies. China has moved over the past couple of years to quiet security disputes with both Japan and South Korea that disrupted economic ties.

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In June, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to visit Japan in nine years and plans to make a more formal state visit in the coming months. Top leaders from the three countries are planning to meet in China in December, Kyodo News reported earlier this month.

Still, there were signs of frictions between the neighbours, who were on opposing sides of some of the 20th century's bloodiest conflicts. Mr Kono told Mr Wang on Tuesday that Japan was "deeply concerned" about ongoing protests in Hong Kong, echoing comments China has previously rejected as foreign meddling.

Meanwhile, Ms Kang said her country was seeking closer ties with China amid frictions with Tokyo and the trade dispute between Beijing and Washington. Japan and South Korea have been engaged in their own escalating trade spat, fuelled by disagreements over Japan's 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

"China has noted difficulties in South Korea-Japanese relations," Mr Wang said. "We hope the two sides can pay attention to each other's considerations" and work together for "three-way cooperation".

At a separate bilateral meeting between Mr Kono and Ms Kang, the Japanese foreign minister said the dispute over wartime laborers was the biggest bilateral issue, and strongly urged South Korea to rectify the current situation, ministry spokesman Jun Saito said in a briefing.

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