BEIJING (AP) -- The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea met in Beijing on Wednesday as they seek to encourage progress on North Korean denuclearization at a time of tense relations between Tokyo and Seoul over trade.
In talks with Japan's Taro Kono and South Korea's Kang Kyung-wha, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China will work with the two countries to maintain multilateralism and free trade and commit to the region's stability.
"We support Japan and South Korea in taking the chance of the trilateral foreign ministers meeting to have their bilateral talks," Wang said at a news conference following morning talks. "We hope both sides can address the concerns of each other, handle the disputes constructively and find a proper way of solving the problems."
China is also using the trilateral meeting to reiterate its opposition to either Japan or South Korea playing host to new U.S. intermediate-range ballistic missiles that Washington says it plans to deploy to the region as soon as possible after leaving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty earlier this month. China has threatened to punish any country that does so, and Chinese state media said Wang brought up the issue in separate meetings with Kono and Kang on Tuesday.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have been strained since Japan tightened export controls on key materials for South Korea's semiconductor industry and decided to downgrade the nation's trade status.
Seoul accuses Tokyo of weaponizing trade to retaliate for political rows over wartime history. The row threatens to upset economic security in Northeast Asia, as well as Washington's hopes for military cooperation between its two treaty allies.
While Taro called for cooperation among the three despite the feud, Kang attacked Japan over its export controls, according to Japanese news reports. At the news conference, however, both sides appeared eager to downplay the dispute.
"It is inevitable that sometimes the bilateral relations among us have some difficulties," Kono said. "The three of us have important responsibility for the stability and prosperity of the region and the whole world and the cooperation among us will definitely make major contributions in this regard."
Kang said the Japan-South Korea dispute shouldn't be allowed to affect trilateral relations.
"In order that the three-way cooperation can be developed in a stable way without being affected by the bilateral relations, we should enrich the contents of the exchanges among the three countries and let the people of the three countries feel the substantial benefit from such cooperation," Kang said.
Despite their close economic interdependence, ties between the three have often been fraught over trade frictions, the role of the U.S. and lingering resentment over Japan's colonial legacy and World War II aggression.
China and South Korea only recently began healing ties after Beijing exacted painful economic retaliation on South Korea over Seoul's decision to host a powerful U.S. missile defense system.
China and Japan meanwhile are enjoying an unusually calm period in their often-turbulent relationship, which was at a breaking point a few years ago due to a dispute over East China Sea islands controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
China is North Korea's most important ally and has argued that steps by Pyongyang depend on security assurances from Seoul and Washington.