China, Japan, S.Korea Meet on N. Korea, Free Trade

As tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has warned about an unstable situation in a summit with Japan and South Korea. AFP reports:

“The Northeast Asia and East Asia regions are faced with a lot of unstable and uncertain elements that are difficult to predict,” Wen said in his opening remarks.

“At this important moment, it is significant for maintaining regional peace and development that the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea exchange views on issues of common interest and strengthen their coordination.”

Japan Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said prior to his departure for the summit, also attended by South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, that the three nations would step up efforts to prevent a possible North Korean nuclear test.

To deal with the rising tensions with North Korea due to fears about nuclear weapon development, the three countries have agreed to work together to prevent provocation from North Korea. The Associated Press adds:

The nations — which together account for 90 percent of the East Asian economy — were holding their fifth annual trilateral summit, with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao hosting, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda attending.

Lee said the three countries all agreed that any further provocations from North Korea would be unacceptable.

“The pressing task is to try our best to prevent tensions on the Korean peninsula from escalating,” he said.

Noda said Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul should work together to try to prevent further provocations by North Korea.

Aside from North Korea, the summit also focused on negotiations for free-trade between the countries to start this year. Bloomberg adds:

The establishment of a free-trade pact will unleash the economic vitality of the region and give a strong boost to economic integration in East Asia, Wen said yesterday, according to a pool report. China has proposed coastal Shandong province as its base for a regional economic cooperation zone, Wen said, with Japan and South Korea to nominate appropriate locations of their own.

Cooperation among the three nations is “very important” to ensure that the Asia-Pacific region is the growth center of the world, Japan’s Noda said, according to the pool report. South Korea’s Lee, referring to economic problems facing the U.S. and Europe, added: “In times of crisis, if countries, for their own survival, carry out protectionist ideas, then the recovery of the economy will take a long time.”

A free-trade accord would bring together a market of more than 1.5 billion people. Closer economic and trade ties may also help defuse political mistrust in the region, a legacy of Japan’s invasion of China and the Korean peninsula in the early 20th century.

China has free-trade agreements with 10 economies including New Zealand and Singapore, according to the Commerce Ministry’s website. The nation, the world’s biggest exporter, is negotiating deals with countries including Iceland and Norway, the ministry said.