The foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea will hold their eighth annual meeting in Tokyo tomorrow, where they will discuss trilateral cooperation amid fraught ties among the three countries.
Japan's Foreign Ministry, in a statement yesterday, said they will discuss "trilateral cooperation as well as regional and global issues".
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will chair the talks that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se are expected to attend.
This will be the first visit to Japan by a Chinese foreign minister since 2012, when Tokyo bought three of the five islets - known as Senkaku to the Japanese and Diaoyu to the Chinese - at the centre of a dispute with Beijing from private Japanese owners, sparking protests in China.
Beijing sought to downplay the visit. China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, at a daily media briefing yesterday, said the visit comes under the framework of an existing dialogue mechanism.
The cooperation among the three countries has an important impact on regional peace and stability and the development of prosperity for our peoples.
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN LU KANG, on the talks between the three foreign ministers.
"This is not Mr Wang visiting Japan but him accepting an invitation to a meeting," he said. "The cooperation among the three countries has an important impact on regional peace and stability and the development of prosperity for our peoples."
Seoul, meanwhile, said the meeting will bring about the "extensive exchange of views on the progress in, and the way forward for the trilateral cooperation".
Experts said defence issues are likely to weigh heavily on the agenda.
Since Aug 5, Tokyo has lodged more than 30 diplomatic protests with Beijing over intrusions by Chinese vessels in waters near the disputed islets in the East China Sea.
It also lodged a separate protest with Seoul when 10 South Korean lawmakers landed on the Dokdo or Takeshima crop of disputed islets this month.
Mr Kishida will also hold separate meetings with Mr Wang and Mr Yun, Japanese media reported yesterday.
With Mr Wang, he is expected to discuss what Japan sees as incursions of Chinese vessels into Japanese waters. He is also expected to lodge a "strong protest" and "urge restraint", according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Mr Kishida will be discussing with Mr Yun the implementation of the comfort women agreement between Japan and South Korea.
Japanese think-tank Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation analyst Yoichi Kato said the talks symbolise a "collective will among the three countries to prevent a further deterioration of bilateral relations".
"But whether this meeting can deliver tangible positive results beyond this kind of 'tension management' remains to be seen," he added.
UniSIM East Asia expert Lim Tai Wei said the ministers may focus on "common challenges like North Korea to leverage against other more difficult issues between them, where there is less common ground".
Tomorrow's meeting will set the stage for the annual trilateral leaders' summit to be held later this year. The meeting resumed last year after a three-year hiatus over issues such as the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression.