The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea released a joint declaration Monday, a day after their summit talks, but the document did not incorporate any explicit reference to North Korea's failed missile launch, as the three countries could not agree on the issue.
The Joint Declaration on Enhancement of Trilateral Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership was initially scheduled to be released Sunday, when Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak held a summit in Beijing.
The joint declaration stipulates the terms of agreement for 50 items in five fields, such as "enhancing mutual political trust" and "strengthening economic and trade cooperation."
The document expresses the three countries' commitment to "realizing a peaceful, stable and prosperous East Asia."
However, the declaration does not include a condemnation of North Korea's failed launch of a long-range ballistic missile last month, or urge the country to refrain from carrying out a new nuclear test.
The joint declaration thus indicates a lack of unity among the three leaders, although they had reportedly agreed during talks that they could not accept North Korea's provocative actions.
"The international community must unite to show North Korea its firm commitment" to preventing further provocations by the country, Noda reportedly told his Chinese and South Korean counterparts during the meeting Sunday.
Regarding negotiations on a free trade agreement, the joint declaration says the three countries "should immediately start to prepare, including [completing] domestic procedures and [having] working level consultations" to launch the FTA negotiations this year.
It also calls on each country to carry out their "respective domestic procedures as soon as possible" to bring into effect a trilateral agreement for the promotion, facilitation and protection of investments at the earliest possible date.
Additionally, the joint declaration addresses enhanced trilateral cooperation for maritime search and rescue operations to ensure maritime safety, as well as the stability of the energy market.
Officials from the three countries had final discussions on the draft Sunday, held concurrently with the summit talks of the three leaders, but they failed to agree, informed sources said.
South Korea insisted the document should urge Pyongyang to exercise self-restraint not to carry out a nuclear test or other provocative actions, but China seemed reluctant to include such details, the sources added.
Hu shuns meeting with Noda
China has refused Japan's request for a bilateral meeting between Noda and Chinese President Hu Jintao after Sunday's summit meetings, a diplomatic source said Monday.
Hu met Lee and Noda at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday. Hu then held a bilateral summit with Lee, but did not have a one-on-one meeting with Noda.
Japanese and Chinese officials continued negotiations over the weekend regarding the former's request to hold a meeting between Noda and Hu, but the Chinese side eventually rejected the idea, according to the source.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito admitted that the two countries' officials had discussed the possibility of holding such a meeting.
"When it came to a meeting with [the prime minister of] Japan, it was difficult for [Hu] to hold the meeting due to his schedule," Saito said.
When Noda met with Wen on Sunday, the Chinese premier took a severely critical attitude toward Japan on issues concerning the Senkaku Islands, over which China claims sovereignty.
The diplomatic source assumed Chinese officials rejected Japan's request out of concern that the meeting would worsen the relationship between the two countries.
"I believe they became concerned that the bilateral relationship might cool off again as Hu would have to deal with the Senkaku Islands issues if he met with Noda," the source said.
Another diplomatic source, however, pointed out that there might have been a different factor behind China's rejection.
The World Uygur Congress, a Germany-based group for people exiled from the Xingiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China, started a general assembly in Tokyo on Monday. "China's rejection was an apparent sign of dissatisfaction against [Japan allowing the group to hold the event]," the source said.