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China, Japan, and South Korea met at a trilateral summit in Seoul to reinvigorate economic and security ties. Chinese Premier Li Qiang emphasized the importance of upholding free trade and avoiding the politicization of economic and trade issues. The leaders agreed to institutionalize three-way cooperation by holding regular trilateral summits and ministerial meetings. They also aimed to accelerate negotiations for a free trade agreement that is fair, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial. The summit was seen as critical to stabilizing relations between the countries and preventing further tensions.

The summit took place amidst regional security concerns, particularly nuclear and missile threats from North Korea. The three countries jointly called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and pledged to work towards a political settlement of the issue. Both Japan and South Korea recognize that China has limited leverage when it comes to North Korea and that cooperation with the United States is crucial in dealing with weapons proliferation from North Korea. The summit emphasized the need for clear, transparent, and globally level playing field for trade and investment to foster economic growth.

China aims to entice both South Korea and Japan away from U.S.-led initiatives through the trilateral summit. Concerns have been raised about China’s intentions to drive a wedge between the U.S., South Korea, and Japan by undermining their cooperation. Economic considerations are also at the forefront, with China being a significant market for both countries to ignore. The challenge going forward will be striking a balance between economic opportunities in China and navigating the changing security landscape, especially concerning Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Bilateral talks between Chinese Premier Li and the leaders of South Korea and Japan on the eve of the summit highlighted the importance of maintaining an unimpeded supply chain and safeguarding the global free trade system. Japan expressed serious concerns about the situation in the South China Sea and Chinese military activities near Taiwan. Japan stressed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait for the international community. Despite efforts to keep the economic relationship stable, the evolving security environment presents challenges in insulating the economic ties between Japan and China from geopolitical developments.

Experts view the trilateral summit as a significant step in fostering cooperation and stability in the region. Governments and leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea emphasized the importance of free trade, transparency, and a level playing field for economic activities. While economic interests remain a driving force for engagement with China, security concerns, particularly related to North Korea and Taiwan, pose challenges for maintaining stability in relations. The ongoing dialogue and cooperation between the three countries will be crucial in navigating these complex issues and ensuring mutual benefits for all parties involved.

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