Japan confirmed with South Korea and China the importance of North Korean denuclearization at a trilateral summit on Monday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, hours after Pyongyang announced a plan to launch a satellite-carrying rocket.

But a joint statement issued after the meeting of the three leaders did not mention their commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” as agreed at the previous summit in December 2019 in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu.

At a joint press announcement with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese Premier Li Qiang following the gathering in Seoul, Kishida said that stability on the Korean Peninsula is in the “common interest” of the three Asian countries.

(from L) Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese Premier Li Qiang prepare to attend a joint press conference following their talks in Seoul on May 27, 2024. (Pool photo) (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The statement only said, “We reiterated positions on regional peace and stability, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the abductions issue, respectively. We agree to continue to make positive efforts for the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue.”

North Korea said Monday it “strongly denounces and rejects” the joint declaration as “a blatant challenge” to the nation’s sovereignty and “wanton interference in its internal affairs,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry criticized South Korea in a statement carried by KCNA, saying Seoul has brought a “grave security crisis” to the Korean Peninsula “by frantically strengthening military alliance for aggression with hegemonic forces outside the region,” referring to the United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a joint press conference with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese Premier Li Qiang following their talks in Seoul on May 27, 2024. (Pool photo) (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The trilateral summit took place with the regional security environment becoming more severe amid nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, which has been bolstering its economic and military ties with China.

The Japanese government said earlier Monday that North Korea has notified Tokyo of its plan to launch a satellite-carrying rocket before June 4. The launch might involve the use of ballistic missile technology, a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

At the outset of the trilateral summit, Kishida urged North Korea to cancel its planned satellite launch, with Yoon, the chair of the meeting, saying it would endanger regional and global peace and stability.

Li, who took office in March 2023, did not touch on the issue, saying only that the role of China, Japan and South Korea is “to promote development, boost cooperation in East Asia and safeguard peace and prosperity in the region and the world.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese Premier Li Qiang following their talks in Seoul on May 27, 2024. (Pool photo) (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The statement also said, “We reaffirmed our commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and to an international order based on the rule of law and international law,” apparently targeting Russia.

The phrase might have been added to the statement as requested by Japan and South Korea despite opposition from China, effectively ruled solely by the Communist Party, as Tokyo and Seoul share common values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights, pundits said.

China has been trying to deepen relations with North Korea and Russia, while Japan and South Korea have been strengthening security cooperation, criticizing Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, the leaders of Japan, South Korea and China agreed to work together in a wide range of fields, including people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation, at their first trilateral summit in more than four years.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang speaks at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol following their talks in Seoul on May 27, 2024. (Pool photo) (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

On the economic front, the three leaders pledged to speed up negotiations toward the signing of a three-way free trade agreement, which stalled in early 2020 against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the joint statement showed.

Kishida, Yoon and Li also reaffirmed that they will join hands to enhance supply chains that are vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, natural disasters and epidemics, causing disruptions in production and business operations.

Nevertheless, the outlook for trade and economic talks is gloomy as it is uncertain how much China will satisfy Japan’s demands to rectify Beijing’s alleged unfair business practices, such as strict information regulations and opaque benefits to state-owned companies.

In principle, the Asian countries hold trilateral summits annually on a rotating basis, but they have occasionally been suspended as Japan’s ties with its two neighbors have soured over historical and territorial disputes.

Recently, Tokyo and Beijing have been at odds over trade after China imposed a blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports in the wake of the release of treated radioactive wastewater from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that began in August 2023.

At their bilateral meeting on Sunday, Kishida asked Li for an immediate lifting of the import ban. But Li expressed Beijing’s anxiety about the discharge, referring to the water as “nuclear-contaminated,” according to Chinese state-run media.

Last week, meanwhile, China carried out two-day military drills around Taiwan, arguing that they are a “strong punishment” for those seeking the island’s independence and a “stern warning” to “external forces” against interference and provocation.

A Japan-China-South Korea summit is held in Seoul on May 27, 2024. (Pool photo) (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The military exercises followed last Monday’s inauguration of Taiwan’s new President Lai Ching-te, whom China condemns as a separatist. He is the leader of the ruling, independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

Kishida said Sunday that he conveyed Japan’s “serious concern” about China’s expanding military activities, emphasizing that Tokyo believes stability in the Taiwan Strait is “crucial” not only for the region but also for the international community.

China’s Foreign Ministry, however, said Li told Kishida that Taiwan is at the “core” of Beijing’s interests and a “red line” that must not be crossed.

The joint statement released after the trilateral summit on Monday did not refer to Taiwan.


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