Japan, China, South Korea foreign ministers to meet next month

(From left) Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterparts Wang Yi of China and Yun Byung Se of South Korea will meet in Seoul in late March, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. -- PHOTO: AFP / REUTERS / EPA
(From left) Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterparts Wang Yi of China and Yun Byung Se of South Korea will meet in Seoul in late March, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. -- PHOTO: AFP / REUTERS / EPA

TOKYO (AFP) - The foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea appear set to meet next month for the first time in three years in the latest sign of easing tensions in East Asia, reports said Friday.

If the gathering goes ahead, it will be the first trilateral at such a high level since April 2012 - before Sino-Japanese ties nose-dived over a lingering territorial dispute.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his counterparts Wang Yi of China and Yun Byung Se of South Korea will meet in Seoul in late March, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

South Korea's Yonhap carried a similar report.

Any such meeting of foreign ministers could pave the way for a three-way summit, last held in May 2012.

Asked about the report, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga appeared to confirm the meeting, saying the date and the venue "are being coordinated" among diplomats but "nothing is yet decided".

The news comes after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping broke the ice with a frosty handshake on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November.

Japan and China have long been at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus but which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Relations soured in 2012 when the Japanese government angered China by nationalising some of the islands.

Since then, Tokyo and Beijing have routinely butted heads over the issue, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.

The November meeting between Abe and Xi came on the heels of the joint issuance of largely similar statements on the dispute that observers noted were sufficiently vague to allow both sides to claim victory to domestic audiences.

In the planned meeting, a range of issues including economy, energy, six-party talks to address North Korea's nuclear programme, and counter-terror measures are expected to be discussed, the Yomiuri said.