SEOUL (Reuters) - The foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China agreed on Saturday that a summit meeting of their leaders, on hold for nearly three years because of tensions over history and territory, should be held soon to mend the countries’ ties.
The ministers were meeting, also for the first time in three years, in a bid to restore what had been a regular forum to discuss cooperation until it collapsed over what Seoul and Beijing saw as Japan’s reluctance to own up to its wartime past.
“Based on the accomplishments achieved through this meeting, the three ministers decided to continue their efforts to hold the trilateral summit at the earliest convenient time for the three countries,” a joint statement after the meeting said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a joint news conference much depended on Japan proving it was serious about recognizing its wartime past.
“The war has been over for 70 years, but the problem with history remains a present issue, not an issue of the past,” he said referring to the end of World War Two.
South Korea and China see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to recast Japan’s war record in a less apologetic tone as an attempt to whitewash history, and have urged him to uphold former leaders’ statements of apology.
Abe has recently shown signs of softening his stance, helping to ease relations.
Meeting on the sidelines earlier, Wang expressed hope South Korea would join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Seoul was reviewing its options, a South Korean official told Reuters.
Japan has yet to show serious intent of joining the institution, Wang said. “It’s an Asian infrastructure investment bank, and Japan is an important part of Asia,” he told reporters. “We can cooperate together.”
Japan and South Korea, major regional U.S. allies along with Australia, are notable absentees from the bank. Japan says it is reviewing the prospect of joining.
The United States, worried about China’s growing diplomatic clout, questions whether the bank will have adequate governance and environmental and social safeguards.
Japan-China ties remain frosty despite Abe meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time last November. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has yet to have a two-way summit with Abe.
Both China and Japan claim a tiny group of islets in the East China Sea, while South Korea and Japan have a separate island dispute.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said after Yun’s two-way meetings with Wang and with Japan’s Fumio Kishida that they agreed to cooperate on “cutting off advances in (North Korea’s) nuclear capability.”
Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in Shanghai and Seungyun Oh in Seoul; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Mark Potter