Foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea have kicked off a meeting in the Japanese capital to discuss their commonalities and differences amid boiling territorial disputes and problems with North Korea.
The meeting started on Tuesday at a Tokyo hotel as Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, China's Wang Yi and South Korea's Yun Byung-se met for dinner.
The three, who are expected to start formal talks on Wednesday, shook hands and smiled for cameras before their meal but did not talk to the media.
Japanese officials described the meeting as “extremely important,” with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying the three countries that play major roles in the region can use the meeting to “exchange opinions frankly.”
Tensions between Japan and China spiked this month over a long-running dispute on uninhabited islets called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea.
An unnamed Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo will use the meeting to clearly convey its message about the disputed islands.
“We will deliver Japan's thinking directly and clearly ... It is important for us to send our message firmly,” said the official.
Tokyo also has periodic tensions with Seoul over the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression, while China has repeatedly criticized a plan by South Korea for the deployment of a US anti-missile system.
China is expected to raise the issue of US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which South Korea plans to deploy in the face of alleged threat from North Korea.
Japan and South Korea will also press Beijing on the hot issue of North Korea’s missile and nuclear development. The two believe that China can do more by piling up economic pressure on Pyongyang to prevent it from further provocations.
The meeting is the first since March last year and the top diplomats are expected to prepare the ground for a summit later this year. Leaders of the three countries met in South Korea in November last year.