China, South Korea leaders meet before trilateral talks with Japan

China’s Li and South Korea’s Yoon agree to launch a diplomatic and security dialogue and to resume free trade talks.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol greets Chinese Premier Li Qiang
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, right, greets Chinese Premier Li Qiang during a meeting at the presidential office in Seoul before their trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida [Ahn Young-joon/Pool via Reuters]

Chinese Premier Li Qiang and his South Korean host, President Yoon Suk-yeol, have agreed to launch a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume talks on a free trade agreement a day before their trilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The meeting of the three leaders on Monday is their first three-way talks in more than four years. It comes as South Korea and Japan have been working to mend ties frayed by historical disputes while deepening a trilateral security partnership with the United States amid intensifying China-US rivalry.

On Sunday afternoon, Yoon met Li, who is making his first visit to South Korea since taking office in March 2023.

“China and South Korea face significant common challenges of the international affairs,” Yoon said, pointing to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza as sources of increased uncertainty in the global economy.

Yoon told Li that the two countries should work together to tackle those common challenges.

“Just as Korea and China have overcome various difficulties together over the past 30 years and contributed to each other’s development and growth, I hope to continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation even in the face of today’s global complex crises,” Yoon said, according to his office.

Li told Yoon their countries should oppose turning economic and trade issues into political or security issues and should work to maintain stable supply chains, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Easing regional tensions

In recent years, Chinese leaders and diplomats have frequently condemned the US and its allies, including South Korea and Japan, over export controls targeting its semiconductor industry by calling on these countries to stop “overstretching the concept of national security”.

Since 2021, Chinese companies and state entities have been increasingly cut off from ready access to the world’s most advanced chips, many of them produced by South Korean tech giants like Samsung and SK Hynix.

Li expressed hopes for continuing efforts to “build consensus and resolve differences” through “equal dialogue and sincere communications”.

South Korean activists take part in an anti-Japan rally near the Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea, May 26, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
South Korean activists hold an anti-Japan rally near the presidential office in Seoul before Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to attend the summit with South Korea and China [Kim Hong-J/Reuters]

At a separate meeting with Kishida, Yoon lauded progress on diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges with Japan, and they agreed to foster deeper ties next year when the two countries celebrate the 60th anniversary of normalising relations, Yoon’s office said.

Li and Kishida also held a separate bilateral meeting, during which the Japanese leader stressed that peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait is very important for Tokyo.

According to the Reuters news agency, Kishida also asked Li for the early release of a Japanese national imprisoned in China.

The three neighbours had agreed to hold a summit every year starting in 2008 to boost regional cooperation, but bilateral feuds and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the initiative. Their last trilateral summit was in late 2019.

There are low expectations of any significant announcements or breakthroughs at the meeting on Monday, but the leaders have expressed hopes it could help ease regional tensions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies