TOKYO (AFP) - Foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea kicked off a two-day meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday (Aug 23) with their countries at odds over territorial disputes, a United States missile defence system and perennial regional problem North Korea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se met for dinner at a Tokyo hotel ahead of the start of formal talks on Wednesday.
The three shook hands and smiled for cameras without making any remarks before starting their meal.
The talks are the first since March of last year and come ahead of the Group of 20 summit in China early next month.
"It is extremely important for the foreign ministers of the three countries that play major roles in the region to gather together and exchange opinions frankly," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters earlier.
The meeting comes as Sino-Japanese tensions over a territorial dispute have spiked this month, while China and South Korea have sparred over the planned deployment in the latter country of a US anti-missile system.
The Tokyo-Seoul relationship is also prone to periodic tension due to the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression.
Japan and China are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets, called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea, with tensions over them a frequent hindrance to closer ties.
Tokyo has lodged more than than two dozen protests through diplomatic channels since Aug 5, saying there have been about the same number of intrusions by Chinese vessels into its territorial waters.
"We will deliver Japan's thinking directly and clearly," a Foreign Ministry official said regarding the dispute with China. "It is important for us to send our message firmly."
The visit by China's Wang marks the first by a Chinese foreign minister to Japan since Mr Xi Jinping became president in March 2013.
Separately, China has complained about the planned deployment of the US Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, arguing the missile shield goes against its own national security interests and warning it will heighten regional tension.
South Korea, wary of offending China, had wavered, but went ahead in the face of North Korea's continued missile development.
North Korea, meanwhile, is likely to be a key topic at the meeting, though finding common ground will be difficult Japan and South Korea regularly condemn Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile development, and feel frustrated by what they see as a lack of pressure on the country by China, seen as its economic lifeline.
Bilateral meetings between Mr Kishida and his Chinese and South Korean counterparts are also scheduled.
The three-way meeting is expected to be followed later this year by a summit. The leaders met in November last year in South Korea.