Chinese Premier Arrives in Seoul for Three-Way Summit

Chinese Premier Arrives in Seoul for Three-Way SummitChinese Premier Arrives in Seoul for Three-Way Summit

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Seoul on Saturday for a three-way summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aimed at repairing relations strained from historical and territorial issues.

A day before the summit, Park and Li were set to hold a separate meeting on Saturday with a likely focus on trade issues between two of the region’s closest economic partners.

Li might also seek some sort of assurance from Park that Seoul, a key US ally, will keep a neutral stance over the recent flare-up between Washington and Beijing over the US Navy’s freedom of navigation operations in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, analysts said.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from rival North Korea, AP reported.

Sunday’s trilateral summit will be the first since 2012. The meetings were shelved after Japan’s ties with its two neighbors deteriorated over disputes stemming from its wartime aggression and territorial claims.

Park will separately meet Abe on Monday in the first formal bilateral summit in more than three years.

Japan and China have been gradually resuming exchanges following 2012 tensions over the control of disputed islands in the East China Sea. The rift began healing after diplomats agreed to restart contacts last November, when Chinese President Xi Jinping briefly met and shook hands with Abe.

Park has met Xi six times since she took office in 2013, in efforts to further strengthen ties with China, South Korea’s largest trade partner that also has unusual leverage with the nuclear-armed North Korea.

However, Seoul’s ties with Tokyo have been persistently icy after hawkish Abe came to power in December 2012, as the countries struggled to settle disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. China has similar gripes with Japan.

The US wants Japan and South Korea, important allies in the region, to be on better terms to counter China’s growing geopolitical influence, including in the South China Sea, and also to strengthen security cooperation against North Korea.

“While it is unlikely that anything exceptional will transpire from the Seoul meetings, it is meaningful that the Northeast Asian neighbors have taken the first step toward overcoming their bitter differences by restoring an environment for higher-level dialogue,” said Bong Youngshik, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.