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International relations

Japan, China, South Korea to urge complete denuclearization of North Korea

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left to right, will meet in Tokyo for the countries' first trilateral summit since 2015.   © Kyodo

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea plan to issue a joint document next week focused on trilateral cooperation for the denuclearization of North Korea in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible" way, Japanese government sources said Saturday.

The proposed document is also expected to include the leaders' commitment to maintain pressure on North Korea and urge Pyongyang to take concrete steps toward abandoning nuclear weapons, the sources said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae In are set to meet in Tokyo next Wednesday for the first three-way summit in around two and a half years. Li and Moon will visit Japan for the first time as premier and president, respectively.

The leaders are also expected to express hope for concrete outcomes at the first-ever summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, planned to be held as early as this month.

They are also likely to welcome Kim's recent commitment to denuclearization, expressed at his meeting with Moon in April, noting that its realization will contribute to peace and stability in Northeast Asia, the sources said.

But Japan, China and South Korea are still making final arrangements over the wording of the document as they differ on how to progress with North Korea's denuclearization, the sources said.

China is believed to be siding with Kim, who is apparently seeking to secure incremental rewards such as the easing of sanctions and the provision of economic assistance in exchange for phased steps toward giving up nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Japan, South Korea and the United States are reluctant about the phased approach and are seeking an early realization of North Korea's denuclearization.

Japan is also considering whether its unique position, which is to seek the resolution of the North Korean abduction, nuclear and missile issues "in a comprehensive manner," can be reflected in the joint document.

Abe has said resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s is one of his government's top priorities.

The document will also focus on promoting human exchanges between the three countries, the sources said. The South Korean city of Pyeongchang successfully hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics earlier this year, while Tokyo and Beijing are set to host the 2020 Summer Games and 2022 Winter Games, respectively.

On the economic front, the three countries are likely to push free trade as the cornerstone of prosperity in Asia, the sources said.

The leaders are set to agree on accelerating efforts to conclude a trilateral free trade agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a multilateral trade deal also involving the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Australia, India, and New Zealand.

Japan will host the three-way summit for the first time in around seven years. The previous round was held in Seoul in November 2015. Abe will also hold bilateral talks with Li and Moon on the sidelines of the summit.

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