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(LEAD) S. Korea, China, Japan sign agreement on establishing cooperation secretariat

All Headlines 17:16 December 16, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES in paras 4, 8-9 with details, comments from FM, Chinese, Japanese envoys)

SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea, China and Japan signed an agreement Thursday to establish a cooperation secretariat in Seoul next year, a landmark accord that represents the first treaty between the neighbors whose relations have often soured over history and other disputes.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, Japanese Ambassador Masatoshi Muto and Chinese Ambassador Zhang Xinsen signed the Agreement on the Establishment of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The agreement is the "first-ever treaty signed between the three governments," the ministry said. "The secretariat is expected to make cooperation among the three countries more substantial and institutional so as to contribute greatly to boost trilateral cooperation in terms of its quality and quantity."

The secretariat is expected to be set up at the Songdo area of Incheon, west of Seoul, after the agreement wins legislative approval in the three nations. An ambassador-level South Korean diplomat will first take the rotating headship as secretary-general, officials said.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak first proposed the idea when he held three-way summit talks with his Chinese and Japanese counterparts in Beijing last year. In May, the three countries signed a memorandum on the matter when this year's trilateral summit took place on South Korea's southern island of Jeju.

Officials from the countries have since worked out details and came to agreement recently.

The three countries are key trade partners to each other, but their political relations have often frayed over their shared history, including Japan's aggression against the other nations in the early 20th century, as well as over territorial rows.

"We now signed a treaty between the three countries for the first time in history," Kim said at the signing ceremony. "This demonstrates that the level of cooperation between the three countries ... will elevate by a notch."

The Japanese and Chinese ambassadors also celebrated the signing, saying the secretariat will accelerate trilateral cooperation projects and is meaningful in promoting peace and stability in the region.


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