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Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang praised talks over security, trade and economics with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan as a “restart and a new beginning”, Reuters reported, at the first summit between the three countries in four years.

The talks, held in the South Korean capital Seoul, aimed to improve regional relations amid heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, the Associated Press reported.

Li met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and discussed six areas of cooperation, including sustainable development, people-to-people exchanges, economy and trade.

The regional leaders also focused on sensitive topics such as Taiwan, North Korea and the South China Sea.

Following a meeting with Li, Kishida expressed concerns about China’s actions in the South China Sea, crackdowns of pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, and alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang province.

Meanwhile, Yoon highlighted the North Korean nuclear threat and urged China to contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Li however talked of the need to have “honest dialogues” to enhance trust and resolve issues while balanced with respecting “strategic autonomy”, advocating multipolarity over the formation of blocs. China is wary of Japanese plans to buy 400 US cruise missiles and let US Navy ships be repaired in Japanese ports, AP added.

Yoon and Li agreed to establish a new dialogue and restart free trade agreement negotiations. Li emphasized the importance of stable industrial and supply chains, warning against politicizing economic issues.

The summit comes after a hiatus since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as China’s discontent over Japan and South Korea’s close ties with the United States.

The trilateral meetings sought to restore cooperation among the three nations, which together account for about 25 percent of global gross domestic product.

Economic and trade ties, which have been the bedrock of regional relations, are weakening: Japan’s new investment in China fell for a second year in 2023, and South Korean investment in China hit a 20-year low, Bloomberg noted.

China was expected to urge Japan and South Korea to resist US-led restrictions on advanced chipmaking equipment exports. This comes amid an intensifying US-China rivalry over semiconductor supremacy, with Washington imposing restrictions to deny Beijing access to advanced chips.

The summit highlights the delicate balance Japan and South Korea must maintain, having China as their biggest trading partner while relying on the US for security.

Observers explained that resuming the high-level talks underscores a positive sign that all three nations intend to improve relations.

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