TOKYO — The foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea put aside frictions over territorial disputes and wartime history to sharply criticize North Korea's latest submarine missile test on Wednesday in a rare display of unity.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who chaired the meeting with China's Wang Yi and South Korea's Yun Byung-se, said that North Korea's missile launch is a "provocation that simply cannot be tolerated."
North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine into the Sea of Japan, South Korean and U.S. officials said.
Seoul officials condemned the launch as an "armed protest" against the start of annual South Korean-U.S. military drills that North Korean calls an invasion rehearsal. The launch was also the latest in a series of missile, rocket and other weapon tests by North Korea, which is openly pushing to acquire a reliable weapon capable striking targets as far away as the continental U.S.
Kishida said Tokyo lodged a protest to the North over the missile, and urged his counterparts to step up cooperation as they face the latest development.
"I hope to coordinate closely in order for Japan, China and South Korea to lead the efforts of the international community," he said.
Yun said that North Korea's repeated missile tests this year "demonstrated a rapid advancement of capability" and that he shared the concern over the "urgent situation" with his counterparts. He said the three countries should show unity in tackling the problem.
Wang said the three neighbors, despite problems and difficulties among them, should work together to deal with regional threats like North Korea's missile and nuclear ambitions.
"China opposes North Korea's nuclear and missile process, actions that cause tension on the Korean Peninsula," Wang said in a joint news conference.
The three countries have quarreled on a number of issues, and their foreign ministers' meetings resumed only last year after a two-year hiatus because of strained Chinese-Japanese relations.
Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing also remain high over disputed East China Sea islands, while China and South Korea also have frayed recently after Seoul approved the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system against North Korea's threats that Beijing says will harm its security.
During Wednesday's talks, the ministers apparently focused more on the areas where they can cooperate, including disaster prevention, people exchange and the environment, rather than discussing the thorny issues, which are expected to come up at their separate bilateral talks later in the day. Japanese officials said the U.S. missile deployment in South Korea and their ongoing joint military exercises were not mentioned at the trilateral talks.
Officials were seen making sure to avoid further straining their relations, especially with China, ahead of the G-20 summit in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou in early September. Talks usually start with brief opening remarks for the media, but the ministers at Wednesday's Japan-China talks were silent until all the reporters were out.
While expectations for concrete achievements at the talks were low, Japan was to offer details about the 1 billion yen ($1 million) fund that Tokyo promised as a way to atone for its wartime sexual abuse of South Korean women.
The fund is part of the landmark agreement reached by the two sides last December in a bid to resolve their decades-old row stemming from Japan's wartime actions. Japan's Cabinet was to approve details of the provision, provided to the women through a South Korean organization launched last month, ahead of Japan-South Korea talks.