Chinese Premier Li Qiang praised what he called a restart in relations with Japan and South Korea as he met their leaders for the first three-way talks in four years on Monday, agreeing to revive trade and security dialogues hampered by global tensions.

The Chinese premier met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul with efforts to revitalise three-party free trade agreement negotiations, stalled since 2019, high on the agenda.

As the summit opened, Li said the meeting was “both a restart and a new beginning” and called for the comprehensive resumption of cooperation between East Asia’s economic powerhouses.

But for this to happen politics should be separated from economic and trade issues, he added, calling for an end to protectionism and the decoupling of supply chains.

“For China, South Korea, and Japan, our close ties will not change, the spirit of cooperation achieved through crisis response will not change and our mission to safeguard regional peace and stability will not change,” Li said.

Regardless of agreements signed during the talks, the meeting itself is being seen as a mark of progress in relations between three countries whose relations are marked as much by suspicion and rancour as constructive engagement.

“The China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit is more about reducing frictions than reshaping geopolitics,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.