Trio of nations unite against North Korea nuclear tests

Leaders of China, Japan and South Korea also decide to start free-trade area negotiations before the end of this year.

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BEIJING // China, Japan and South Korea warned North Korea yesterday that they will not tolerate further nuclear tests, the South Korean president said, amid fears that Pyongyang is preparing a third atomic blast.

Lee Myung-Bak made the remark after talks in Beijing with the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, and the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, that also saw the trio decide to start free-trade area negotiations before the end of this year.

"Our three countries agreed that we will not accept further nuclear tests or further provocations from North Korea," Mr Lee said after meeting.

The North-east Asian leaders had been expected to put Pyongyang's nuclear and rocket programmes high on the agenda for yesterday's summit.

Fears of a third North Korean nuclear test have grown after a failed rocket launch by Pyongyang last month that the United States and its allies said was a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions.

Satellite photographs have recently shown work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Mr Noda called on the three countries to strengthen cooperation to "further prevent provocations" by North Korea.

Mr Wen warned earlier yesterday that the region faced many "unstable" factors that made the situation hard to predict.

"The various parties need to use their wisdom, keep patient, and display goodwill to the greatest extent so as to ease confrontation and return to the right track of dialogue and negotiations," the Chinese premier said.

China, long North Korea's key ally, has been an advocate of seeking to put a stop to the isolated regime's nuclear ambitions via multilateral talks.

The three leaders also agreed to start talks this year on a free-trade area, saying it would grow the economies of the entire region.

The issue has been on the trilateral agenda for the past decade, beginning with an agreement among the three in late 2002 to launch a feasibility study on a free-trade area.

Mr Wen said closer regional economic integration, in response to a slow global recovery and an overall rise in trade protectionism, would foster growth.

"North-east Asia is the most economically vibrant region in the world. So there is huge potential for our three countries to have closer trade and investment cooperation," he said.

"The establishment of a free-trade area will unleash the economic vitality of our region and give a strong boost to economic integration in East Asia."

China, Japan and South Korea combined would have the world's largest economy, bigger than the European Union, when measured by purchasing power parity, which takes into account differences in living costs across nations.

"Today, as we look at the global financial crisis, some countries are still pursuing protectionist ideas and have expanded them," Mr Lee said.

"I'm worried about this. By comparison, I believe the agreement between the three countries is an important thing."