TOKYO (AFP) -- Foreign ministers from Japan, China and South Korea began a two-day meeting on Tuesday with their countries at odds over territorial disputes, a US missile defence system and perennial regional problem North Korea.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, China's Wang Yi and South Korea's Yun Byung-Se met for dinner at a Tokyo hotel before the start of formal talks on Wednesday.
The three shook hands and smiled for the cameras without making any remarks.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (center), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi(left), and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se pose for photographers prior to the official banquet of the trilateral foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
The talks are the first since March last year and come ahead of a Group of 20 summit in China early next month.
"It is extremely important for the foreign ministers of the three countries that play major roles in the region to gather together and exchange opinions frankly," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters earlier.
Sino-Japanese tensions over a territorial dispute have risen this month, while China and South Korea have sparred over the planned deployment in the latter country of a US anti-missile system.
The Tokyo-Seoul relationship is also prone to periodic tension due to the legacy of Japan's harsh colonisation of the Korean peninsula from 1910-45.
Japan and China are locked in a long-running dispute over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea called the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
Tokyo has lodged more than two dozen protests through diplomatic channels since August 5, saying there have been about 30 intrusions by Chinese vessels into its territorial waters.
"We will deliver Japan's thinking directly and clearly," a foreign ministry official said regarding the dispute with China. "It is important for us to send our message firmly."
The visit is the first by a Chinese foreign minister to Japan since Xi Jinping became president in March 2013.
Separately, China has complained about the planned deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, arguing the missile shield damages its own security interests and will heighten regional tension.
South Korea, wary of offending China, had wavered about the installation but went ahead in the face of North Korea's continued missile development.
North Korea is likely to be a key topic at the meeting, though finding common ground will be difficult
Japan and South Korea regularly condemn Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile development, and feel frustrated by what they see as a lack of pressure on the country by the North's economic lifeline China.
Bilateral meetings between Kishida and his Chinese and South Korean counterparts are also scheduled.
The three-way meeting is expected to be followed later this year by a summit. The leaders met in November last year in South Korea.
"I strongly hope that the meeting will create big momentum" for a successful summit, said Japan's Suga.