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China, Japan and South Korea Hold Regional Summit Overshadowed by U.S.

The leaders of South Korea and Japan on Monday sought to restore economic cooperation with China, their biggest trading partner, after years of souring relations, but their three-way talks were overshadowed by heightened tensions between China and the United States, Seoul and Tokyo’s most important military ally.

The trilateral meeting — featuring President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and Premier Li Qiang, the second-highest official in China — was the first in four and a half years.

Talks focused mainly on areas where common ground could more easily be found, such as protecting supply chains, promoting trade and cooperating on the challenges of aging populations and emerging infectious diseases. The leaders tiptoed around thorny regional security issues like Taiwan​ and North Korea​.

“The three nations agreed to expand practical cooperation in a way their people can feel its benefits,” Mr. Yoon said during a joint news conference with Mr. Kishida and Mr. Li, announcing 2025 and 2026 as the “years of cultural exchanges” among the three nations.

But hours before the meeting, North Korea helped highlight the major differences among the three neighbors. Pyongyang said that it would launch a long-range rocket within nine days to put a military spy satellite​ into space. The country is barred by United Nations Security Council resolutions from launching such rockets because they use the same technology needed to build intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s increasingly aggressive military posture has deepened concerns in South Korea and Japan. The North has also expanded arms trade with Russia in defiance of U.N. sanctions, shipping artillery shells and missiles for Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine, according to American and South Korean officials. In return, Moscow is accused of providing energy and technological assistance that could help North Korea’s missile program.

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