China, Japan and South Korea call for greater cooperation on free trade

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Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea have met to discuss the importance of establishing stronger trade links between the nations.

China, Japan and South Korea have discussed the need for greater free trade cooperation between the nations during a trilateral summit.

Leaders from the three Asian economic powers have met in Tokyo for the first time since 2015, taking the opportunity to lay out the case for a refreshed commitment to free trade in the face of rising protectionism in other parts of the world.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang spoke alongside Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in to outline their shared interest in deepening the regional economic integration between the countries, including the acceleration of talks over potentially establishing a China-Japan-Korea free trade area.

They are also looking to secure the early completion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the multilateral pact that would liberalize the three nations' trade relationship with India, Australia, New Zealand and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The summit represents a noteworthy breakthrough in the relationship between China and Japan, and marks the first visit to Japan by a Chinese premier or a South Korean president since 2011. These frosty relations are being thawed in response to US president Donald Trump's recent tariff threats and demands to renegotiate trade deals.

Japan and China have both been hit by the recent introduction of new levies on steel and aluminum sales to the US, while President Trump has also threatened to terminate the US free trade agreement with South Korea unless its terms can be revised.

Mr Li said: "In the current circumstances, China, Japan and Korea should stand even more firmly together, uphold the rules-based multilateral trading system and proudly oppose protectionism and unilateral actions."

He added: "China, Japan and Korea's development benefits from free trade, and these countries all advocate free trade."