Ranking officials of Korea and Japan held talks on Friday to discuss ways to boost trilateral cooperation with China and restore bilateral relations frayed by historical and territorial brawls.
Deputy Ministers Lee Kyung-soo and Shinsuke Sugiyama agreed on the need to put the three-way partnership back on track and bring about a foreign ministers' meeting and eventually a summit, Seoul officials said.
The consultations came on the sidelines of a high-level meeting on Thursday that included Liu Zhenmin, China's vice foreign minister, during which they agreed to work together to promptly tackle the current "abnormal situation."
Lee separately met on Thursday with Liu, who also held a meeting with Sugiyama later that day.
Lee and Sugiyama also conferred on bilateral issues as the countries' relations are at their lowest ebb in decades in the face of Tokyo's backpedaling on atrocities it committed during World War II, mainly sex slavery involving Korean, Chinese and other Asian women.
Lee ramped up pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration to come up with a concrete resolution that is enduring and acceptable to the aging former "comfort women."
Sugiyama, for his part, simply reaffirmed support for ongoing director general-level talks.
After their 90-minute talk, Sugiyama told reporters that the two diplomats had discussed various trilateral, bilateral and regional issues.
Seoul and Tokyo have been engaging in director general-level dialogue since April on a monthly basis but have apparently made little progress due to stark differences in their stances. Korea demands Japan take legal responsibility for the sex slavery and provide a sincere apology and compensation to the victims and their families. Tokyo argues that the issue was already resolved through a 1965 agreement that normalized bilateral ties.
The dispute, deepened by Abe's revisionist policies and remarks, has frozen not only bilateral relations but also trilateral cooperation with Beijing and Washington.
Thursday's tripartite consultation was the first deputy minister-level gathering since last November. The three-way discussions were launched in 2007.
Faced with strains in relations with Tokyo, Seoul has managed to revive the channel, seeking to defuse tensions and lay the foundation for a thaw.
During the meeting, the three countries agreed to beef up collaboration in such areas as maritime affairs, cybersecurity, disaster management, nuclear safety and the environment, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"The three officials discussed how to pursue a summit, for which they agreed to first of all explore a foreign ministers' meeting," a ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
After the trilateral talks, Sugiyama said, "We did exchange in-depth views about programs, projects and things which we have done, which we are doing, which we will be doing and of course for the trilateral cooperation not only to be held at the level of a senior officials' meeting … (but) also followed up at the political level, (involving) foreign ministers and ultimately the supreme leaders."