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South Korean, Chinese, and Japanese leaders are set to hold their first trilateral summit in nearly five years in Seoul, with President Yoon Suk Yeol meeting Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The leaders will also engage in separate bilateral talks before attending a business summit with the aim of promoting cooperation among the three countries. This summit comes after a long hiatus in meetings, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and historical disputes between South Korea and Japan stemming from Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Despite ongoing legal disputes between South Korea and Japan over historical issues, the growing threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea has prompted President Yoon to work towards improving relations with Japan and strengthening ties with long-standing ally Washington. Last year, Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington announced a new chapter of close three-way security cooperation following a summit at Camp David, which was met with complaints from Beijing over criticism of China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. Yoon has also acknowledged tensions over Taiwan, attributing them to attempts to change the status quo by force.

The announcement of the upcoming trilateral summit follows reports of China summoning South Korean and Japanese diplomats to discuss issues related to Taiwan, highlighting China’s strategic interests in the region. China remains South Korea’s largest trade partner and plays a crucial role as North Korea’s primary economic benefactor and diplomatic ally, along with Moscow. China has consistently opposed US-led efforts at the United Nations Security Council to impose tougher sanctions on North Korea in response to its weapons tests. Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and China’s top legislator celebrated 75 years of diplomatic ties, signaling a new chapter in Beijing-Pyongyang relations.

The forthcoming summit will be Chinese Premier Li’s first visit to South Korea since assuming office in March 2023, underscoring the significance of the trilateral meeting in advancing regional cooperation and addressing shared concerns. The leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues, including economic cooperation, security challenges, and diplomatic relations, with a focus on promoting stability and peace in Northeast Asia. The summit also presents an opportunity for the leaders to reaffirm their commitment to enhancing trilateral cooperation and addressing key regional issues collectively, demonstrating a shared resolve to work together towards common goals.

Overall, the trilateral summit represents a key diplomatic engagement in the region, signaling a willingness among South Korea, China, and Japan to set aside historical differences and focus on shared challenges and opportunities. By coming together to discuss pressing issues, the leaders aim to strengthen their relationships and foster greater cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The summit also reflects the evolving geopolitical dynamics in Northeast Asia, with the three countries navigating complex regional dynamics while seeking to promote peace and stability in the region.

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