December 31, 2016 / 9:40 AM / 8 months ago

Japan eyes trilateral talks with China, South Korea in February - Kyodo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan has approached China and South Korea about holding a trilateral summit in Tokyo in February aimed at deepening cooperation on such issues as a free trade deal, the environment and counter-terrorism, Kyodo news agency reported on Saturday.

Disagreements over North Korea and historical issues have long dogged relations between the three Asian powers, though they have held several such trilateral meetings since 2008, most recently in Seoul in 2015.

South Korea is enthusiastic about participating in the proposed Tokyo summit while China has yet to clarify its position, Kyodo said, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

China is unlikely to announce its decision before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's policy on Asia becomes more clear, Kyodo said.

If the summit does go ahead, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, in lieu of recently-impeached President Park Geun-hye, are expected to meet around February 10, Kyodo added.

Japan and South Korea said earlier this month they would impose new unilateral sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, but China has expressed its opposition to such measures.

Beijing also opposes a decision by South Korea and the United States to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system to counter missile threats from North Korea.

China and South Korea have both been angered by the Japanese defence minister's decision on Thursday to visit a controversial shrine to Japan's war dead. Beijing and Seoul see the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo as a symbol of Japan's militarism and a reminder of its wartime atrocities.

Japan had originally intended to host the trilateral summit this year, but it postponed the plan due to political uncertainty in South Korea. Tokyo proposed the meeting to Seoul in mid-December following Park's impeachment, Kyodo said.

Reporting by Minami Funakoshi; Editing by Gareth Jones

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