By Hyonhee Shin, Katya Golubkova and Eduardo Baptista

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Chinese Premier Li Qiang agreed on Sunday to launch a diplomatic and security dialogue and resume talks on a free trade agreement, Yoon’s office said.

Yoon and Li met in Seoul a day before a summit with their Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first three-way talks by the three Asian neighbours in more than four years.

China and the U.S.-allied South Korea and Japan are trying to manage rising distrust amid the rivalry between Beijing and Washington and tensions over Taiwan.

Expectations are low for the trilateral summit, but even handshakes would help maintain at least some high-level diplomacy after years of deteriorating ties, diplomats and officials say.

The leaders could make progress in areas of practical cooperation like people-to-people exchanges and consular matters, officials and diplomats said.

Yoon told Li that South Korea and China should work together not only to promote shared interests based on mutual respect but also on regional and global issues to tackle common challenges, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas conflict and global economic uncertainties.

“Just as Korea and China have overcome various difficulties together over the past 30 years and contributed to each other’s development and growth, I hope to continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation even in the face of today’s global complex crises,” Yoon said at the start of the meeting, according to his office.

Yoon asked China to play a greater role as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, especially as North Korea continues to develop nuclear missiles and boost military cooperation with Russia, saying another spy satellite launch using intercontinental ballistic-missile technology is imminent.

Li told Yoon their countries should oppose turning economic and trade issues into political or security issues and should work to maintain stable supply chains, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Li said China is ready to strengthen cooperation in high-end manufacturing, new energy, artificial intelligence, biomedicine and other fields.

China will further expand market access, strengthen guarantees for foreign investment and welcomes South Korean companies including Samsung to expand investment and cooperation, he said.

In recent years Chinese leaders and diplomats have frequently condemned the U.S. and its allies over export controls targeting its semiconductor industry by calling on these countries to stop “overstretching the concept of national security”.

Since 2021 Chinese companies and state entities have been increasingly cut off from ready access to the world’s most advanced chips, many of them produced by South Korean tech giants like Samsung and SK Hynix.

Li expressed hopes for continuing efforts to “build consensus and resolve differences” through “equal dialogue and sincere communications.”


At a separate meeting with Kishida, Yoon lauded progress on diplomatic, economic and cultural exchanges with Japan, and they agreed to foster deeper ties next year when the two countries celebrate the 60th anniversary of normalising relations, Yoon’s office said.

Kishida also met separately with Li, saying the stability of the Taiwan Strait is very important for Japan and the international community.

In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Kishida said he asked China to lift a ban on imported Japanese seafood, imposed after Japan began releasing treated wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific.

He also asked for the early release of Japanese citizens detained in China.

The three neighbours had agreed to hold a summit every year starting in 2008 to boost regional cooperation, but bilateral feuds and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the initiative. Their last trilateral summit was in late 2019.

Yoon, Li and Kishida will adopt a joint statement on six areas including the economy and trade, science and technology, people-to-people exchanges and health and the aging population, Seoul officials said.

The summit comes as South Korea and Japan have been working to mend ties frayed by historical disputes while deepening a trilateral security partnership with the United States amid intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry.

China has previously warned that U.S. efforts to further elevate relations with South Korea and Japan could fan regional tension and confrontation.

Seoul and Tokyo have warned against any attempts to forcibly change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, while Beijing on Tuesday criticised a decision by South Korean and Japanese lawmakers to attend Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration.