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Japan-South Korea rift

China, Japan and South Korea seek 'cooperation' amid trade dispute

Foreign ministers make preparations for summit meeting of nations' leaders

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosts South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, left, and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, right, at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.   © Kyodo

TOKYO/BEIJING -- China, Japan and South Korea sought to find common ground on Wednesday amid an escalating trade dispute between Tokyo and Seoul that has further soured relations between the two countries.

A meeting in Beijing hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with his counterparts from Tokyo and Seoul comes as China has signaled its intention to mediate the Japan-South Korea spat and help to ease tensions.

"I would like Japan and South Korea to find a way to solve the issue," Wang said at a joint news conference with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Kono said that the three countries should "strengthen cooperation," and noted that their economies combined account for one-fifth of the world's gross domestic product. "East Asia has a responsibility for global stability and prosperity," he said.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have been fraught since last October when South Korea's Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies should pay compensation to Korean laborers forced to work during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Japan says that all claims for wartime reparations were settled under a bilateral treaty signed in 1965. Tokyo in January proposed to South Korea's government to meet for bilateral talks to resolve the issue, but Seoul rejected the offer. South Korea also refused Japan's request in May for third-party arbitration.

Japan in July tightened controls on exports to South Korea for key chemicals used in the production of semiconductor products, citing concerns over national security, but the move was viewed as a response to the Supreme Court's decision.

Japan's export controls have prompted fears in South Korea that the country's major semiconductor makers, such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, would run out of chemical stockpiles and no longer be able to manufacture those products.

Japan followed its July decision earlier this month by excluding South Korea from its "white list" of trusted trading partners -- a move that Seoul reciprocated last week.

"In order to develop cooperation between our three countries in the right direction, it is important to look squarely at history and not to forget the spirit of moving into the future," Kang said at Wednesday's news conference.

Addressing Japan's export controls, Kang said: "South Korea would like to eliminate uncertainty in the region by removing unilateral and arbitrary trade retaliatory measures."

Kono also said that he and his counterparts discussed "preparations for a top-level summit" later this year with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and efforts to reduce nuclear tensions.

"We have confirmed that our three countries will cooperate closely to achieve the Korean Peninsula's denuclearization," Kono said.

Kono and Kang planned a separate bilateral meeting later on Wednesday in Beijing, in which their countries' current diplomatic and trade dispute was expected to dominate their discussions.

South Korea's president in a speech last week marking the 74th anniversary of the end of Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula, sought to ease tensions with Japan.

"If Japan comes to the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands," Moon said. "We will strive with Japan to create an East Asia that engages in fair trade and cooperation."

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