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Leaders of Japan, China, S Korea agree to cooperate on NKorea, promote free trade


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,center, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, while South KoreanPresident Moon Jae-in looks on at the end of a joint news conference followingtheir trilateral summit talks in Tokyo Wednesday.


TOKYO - China, Japan and South Korea agreed Wednesday to cooperate on endingNorth Korea's nuclear program and promoting free trade, two hot-button issueschallenging their region.


The agreements came at the first summit for the Northeast Asian neighbors aftera hiatus of more than two years, bringing together Japanese Prime MinisterShinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.


Abe said they discussed how they can get North Korea togive up its nuclear weapons, but he didn't provide any details. China andJapan, in particular, have differences over how best to achieve North Korea'snuclear disarmament.


The meeting comes amid a flurry of developments on the Korean Peninsula. NorthKorean leader Kim Jong Un met Moon on April 27 and Chinese President Xi Jinpingearlier this week, in a surprise visit to the Chinese coastal city of Dalian.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital,early Wednesday to finalize details of a summit planned between President DonaldTrump and Kim.


"We must lead the ongoing momentum toward complete denuclearization of theKorean Peninsula and achieve peace and stability in Northeast Asia," Abetold a joint news conference in Tokyo.


Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said the threeleaders also agreed to work toward two free trade agreements, a free trade pactamong themselves and the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnershipwith Southeast Asian nations.


Trump has threatened all three countries with tariffs in a bid to seek tradeconcessions from them. His moves have raised fears of a trade war between theU.S. and China.


Li, the No. 2 official in China after President Xi Jinping, said earlier thatfree trade is a good way to promote a global economic recovery.


"We are willing to work with Japan and South Korea to jointly maintainregional stability and push forward the development of the threecountries," he said before the meeting started.


The leaders also agreed to hold trilateral summits on regular basis and set upa secretariat. The summits, which started in 2008, are supposed to be heldannually, but Wednesday's was the first since November 2015.


Analysts say Japan is trying to showcase improved ties and cooperation withChina and South Korea so its views will be represented in any negotiations withNorth Korea.


Abe reiterated Japan's position that it would normalize ties with North Koreaonly if the latter took concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear andmissile programs and resolved the issue of Japanese abducted by North Koreanagents.


Japan's leader is to hold talks separately with Moon and Li later Wednesday.Japanese officials said they plan to propose a free and peaceful East China Sea,but do not plan to raise contentious issues such as South Korean "comfortwomen" forced to provide sex to Japan's wartime military.


Moon is to leave Japan after half a day. After that, Abe will host a dinner andlunch for Li and join him on the northern island of Hokkaido on the final dayof his four-day Japan visit.


Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said they want to improve Japan's strainedrelations with China, with the eventual goal of realizing a visit by Xi.


While Japan, China and South Korea are closely linked economically,anti-Japanese sentiment runs deep in China and South Korea because ofterritorial and historical disputes dating back to Japan's colonization of theKorean Peninsula and invasion of China in the first half of the 20th century.