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Japan, China, South Korea eye economy and fight against infectious diseases in joint statement

Japan, China and South Korea are considering a plan for a joint statement emphasizing the promotion of infectious disease measures and economic cooperation, to be adopted at an expected trilateral summit later this month, Japanese government sources said on Sunday .

But another focus will be whether the three countries will be able to keep pace on issues related to nuclear-armed North Korea.

The three countries aim to hold the summit in Seoul on May 26 and 27.

At the planned meeting, the three countries will discuss topics mainly in six areas: personnel exchanges, science and technology, sustainable development, public health, economic cooperation and trade, and peace and security, the sources said.

As this will be the first leaders’ summit between the three East Asian countries since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, they are expected to reaffirm cooperation in preparing for future pandemics and sharing related information, the sources said.

In terms of economic cooperation, the three countries are likely to agree on accelerating free and fair trade and investment, and improving supply chain connectivity.

As for their aging and shrinking population, a common challenge for all three, they will strive to share knowledge on healthy aging, the sources said.

Japan and South Korea hope that China will play a constructive role in curbing North Korean provocations while Pyongyang continues its nuclear and missile development. Beijing is known as Pyongyang’s main patron and exerts some influence over its neighbor.

However, at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the three countries in November last year, China failed to share concerns about North Korea with Japan and South Korea.

But this is expected to be a challenge after China abstained in March from voting on a UN Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of a panel of experts charged with monitoring the implementation of international sanctions against North -Korea.

“There is a gap between the position of Japan and South Korea, and that of China vis-à-vis North Korea,” said a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official. “Optimism is not justified.”

The summit between Japan, China and South Korea would be the ninth of its kind and the first since December 2019.

The intention is for the summit to take place once a year between the three countries. But some previous meetings were canceled due to a deterioration in bilateral ties and the COVID-19 pandemic.

During previous summits, Japan often disagreed with China and South Korea on historical issues. But over the past year, Japan and South Korea have moved quickly to mend fences while promoting security cooperation with the United States.

Meanwhile, China – which is increasingly alert to attempts by Tokyo, Seoul and Washington to control the situation – may be trying to drive a wedge in the three countries, analysts say.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol plan to attend the upcoming summit, with Kishida also considering bilateral meetings with Li and Yoon.

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