TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) - Foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea will meet in Tokyo for two days this week to discuss cooperation, the countries said on Monday, after tension among them raised doubt about prospects for talks.
Relations between the three big Asian economies are often difficult with the legacy of Japan's wartime aggression affecting ties between it and China and South Korea, territorial disputes hurting links between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea, and China suspicious of the others' U.S. ties.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will hold a dinner for his Chinese and South Korean counterparts, Wang Yi and Yun Byung-se, on Tuesday, with an official trilateral meeting set for Wednesday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.
It will be the first visit to Japan by a Chinese foreign minister since the Japanese government took over three of the tiny islands at the centre of a dispute with China, from private Japanese owners in September 2012.
The nationalisation of the islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, infuriated China.
Last month, a senior Japanese official said Japan was considering hosting the annual trilateral meeting in August, but a flare-up in Sino-Japanese tension over the territorial dispute stoked worry the talks might not take place.
Ties between China and Japan became strained after numerous Chinese coastguard and other government ships sailed near the disputed islets in the East China Sea.
Besides the row over the islands, ties between Japan and China have also been strained by the South China Sea dispute, with Japan urging China to adhere to a ruling by an international court that invalidated China's territorial claims there. China warned Japan not to interfere.
South Korea and Japan have a territorial dispute over small islands about half way between their mainlands.
The meeting comes amid escalating tension between South Korea and China over a decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy an advanced anti-missile defence, which the allies say is meant to counter growing threats from North Korea.
China has sharply criticised the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system saying it would destabilise the region's security balance.
Nevertheless, the meeting will give the ministers the opportunity to discuss North Korea's nuclear and missile developments, which all three countries disapprove of, and to prepare for a trilateral summit that Japan is set to host this year.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the talks could not be considered a bilateral visit for Wang, as it was a routine trilateral meeting under an existing dialogue mechanism.
"The cooperation between the three countries has an important impact upon regional and global peace and stability and the development of prosperity," Lu told a daily news briefing.
"This is not foreign minister Wang Yi visiting Japan," he added. "It has nothing to do with a bilateral visit."
Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in TOKYO and Jack Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel