China has proposed three-way vice-foreign ministerial-level talks with Japan and South Korea, diplomatic sources said Sunday, a move Tokyo views as underscoring Beijing's enthusiasm for a three-nation summit this year, the first in four years.

China's top diplomat Wang Yi made the proposal when he met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Jakarta on July 14, even as the two countries are at odds over Tokyo's plan to release treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex into the sea around this summer, the sources said.

Usually, a summit between Japan, China and South Korea is held following working-level and foreign ministerial-level talks, respectively.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi (L) and Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi shake hands ahead of their talks in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 14, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Japan's Foreign Ministry)(Kyodo)

Japan has also notified South Korea, which assumes the rotating chair of the next trilateral summit, of China's stance on resuming a three-way dialogue, the sources said.

The deterioration of ties between Japan and South Korea, coupled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, has prevented the three neighbors from holding a trilateral summit since the last session in December 2019.

But with Tokyo-Seoul ties significantly improving, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed in March on the importance of holding a three-way dialogue as soon as possible.

Wang, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, had also said at the opening of a forum on trilateral cooperation held in China on July 3 that the three countries should "create an atmosphere for the early resumption of leaders meetings."

A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official said the latest attitude of China "shows it has become positive toward three-way dialogue" with the neighbors, considering its position in global affairs and its domestic economy.

China's recent overture seemingly aims to create divisions in the efforts by Japan, South Korea and the United States to strengthen regional security and economic cooperation as Beijing vies with Washington and expands its military influence, according to other Japanese government sources.

As the Chinese economy has signaled a slowdown, Beijing may also seek to promote cooperation with Japanese firms in advanced technologies and attract investment, diplomatic sources said.

In 2008, when the framework was launched, the three countries agreed to hold leaders talks annually and to take turns acting as the host.

They then pledged to step up cooperation in various areas such as international finance, the economy and disaster response.

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