China urges South Korea, Japan to uphold free trade at three-way summit

Chinese Premier Li Qiang says the three countries should view each other as ‘partners and opportunities for development’.

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China, Japan and South Korea are holding their first trilateral summit since 2019 [Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via Reuters]

China’s No 2 official has urged Japan and South Korea to reject protectionism and uphold globalisation as the countries kicked off their first trilateral summit in almost five years.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang made the remarks on Monday as he met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Yeok-seol in Seoul for their countries’ first three-way meeting since December 2019.

Li said the three countries should see each other as “partners and opportunities for development”, China’s state-run Xinhua reported.

“Li called for opposing turning economic and trade issues into political games or security matters, and rejecting protectionism as well as decoupling or the severing of supply chains,” Xinhua said.

On Sunday, Li said foreign companies were an “indispensable force” for China’s development and his country would always be open to such firms, Xinhua said.

China will expand market access to improve the business environment so that foreign firms “can rest assured in their investment and development in China”, Li was quoted as saying during a meeting with Samsung boss Lee Jae-yong.

While the three leaders are expected to push for greater economic cooperation during the summit, the agenda has been overshadowed by North Korea’s announcement that it will launch a satellite into orbit between May 27 and June 4.

Experts say there is significant overlap between the technology used to launch satellites and ballistic missiles, which Pyongyang is barred from developing under multiple United Nations resolutions.

Yoon said the international community should respond “decisively” to any launch by Pyongyang.

“I hope that our three countries, who are working together as members of the UN Security Council this year, will join forces to contribute to peace and prosperity in the international community by gathering wisdom and strength in the face of a global complex crisis and geopolitical conflicts,” Yoon said before beginning talks with his Chinese and Japanese counterparts.

Kishida also called on Pyongyang to cancel the launch.

South Korean officials earlier said the leaders would sign a joint statement on cooperation on the economy and trade, science and technology, people-to-people exchanges and health, and the ageing population.

Japan’s Nikkei Asia reported that the sides were expected to agree to resume free trade agreement negotiations that have been on hold since 2019.

The three leaders’ draft joint statement commits the sides to hold talks on a “mutually beneficial” and “high-quality and inclusive” free trade deal, Nikkei said.

More than 200 business leaders from the three countries agreed to boost cooperation in trade and supply chains during a meeting held on the sidelines of the summit.

Relations between China, Japan and South Korea have been strained over several disputes, many of them related to issues stemming from imperial Japan’s wartime aggression.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies