China's Li hails 'new beginning' with S.Korea, Japan

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has praised what he called a restart in relations with Japan and South Korea as he met their leaders for the first three-way talks in four years, striving to revive trade and security dialogues hampered by global tensions.

The Chinese premier met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul with efforts to revitalise three-party free trade agreement negotiations, stalled since 2019, high on the agenda.

As the summit opened, Li said the talks were "both a restart and a new beginning" and called for the comprehensive resumption of co-operation between East Asia's economic powerhouses.

But for this to happen politics should be separated from economic and trade issues, he added, calling for an end to protectionism and the decoupling of supply chains.

"For China, South Korea, and Japan, our close ties will not change, the spirit of co-operation achieved through crisis response will not change and our mission to safeguard regional peace and stability will not change," Li said on Monday.

Fumio Kishida, Suk-yeol and Li Qiang attend a meeting in Seoul
Japan's Fumio Kishida, South Korea's Yoon Suk-yeol and China's Li Qiang met in Seoul. (AP PHOTO)

A joint declaration released after the meeting called for China, Japan, and South Korea to formalise more regular communication at the highest levels, and collaborate on climate change, conservation, health, trade and international peace, among other areas.

Regardless of any agreements signed during the talks, the meeting itself is being seen as a mark of progress in relations between three countries whose relations are marked as much by suspicion and rancour as constructive engagement.

China and US-allied South Korea and Japan are trying to manage mutual distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington, tensions over democratically ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, and North Korea's nuclear programme.

Yoon and Kishida have charted a closer course with each other and to Washington, embarking on unprecedented three-way co-operation with the United States on military and other measures.

US President Joe Biden has raised barriers to Chinese imports, hiking tariffs on an array of Chinese imports including electric vehicle batteries and computer chips.

Donald Trump, his rival in the November presidential election, has floated tariffs of 60 per cent or higher on all Chinese goods.

On North Korea, Yoon and Kishida called on Pyongyang not to carry out a planned rocket launch carrying a space satellite, which they say uses ballistic missile technology banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Li called for all parties to practise restraint and prevent further complication of the situation on the Korean peninsula.

China is North Korea's only military ally, its largest trade partner, and along with Russia, has called for UN sanctions on North Korea to be eased.

The trade relationship between China, South Korea and Japan has evolved over the past decade to become increasingly competitive.

Yoon said the leaders agreed to build a transparent and predictable trade and supply chain environment, but did not elaborate.

Monday's summit came a day after the leaders met separately for bilateral talks with each other.

In those meetings, Li and Yoon agreed to a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume free trade talks, while Kishida and the Chinese premier discussed Taiwan and agreed to hold a new round of bilateral high-level economic dialogue.