South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will hold summits with the leaders of Japan and China next week amid a spike in regional tension after North Korea threatened to test a nuclear weapon, Roh's office said on Wednesday.
Roh will host new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul on Monday, and head to Beijing to speak with Chinese President Hu Jintao on October 13, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.
The North Korea issue will be a centre of focus for both visits, with Japan and China participants in the deadlocked six-nation talks aimed at convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The other countries in the negotiations are the United States and Russia.
China is the North's last major ally and has faced repeated calls from Washington to step up its pressure on its communist neighbour to resolve the nuclear standoff.
During Roh's trip, he will also meet China's number 2 leader, Wu Bangguo, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the Blue House said. Abe's trip to Seoul is aimed at mending ties strained by a territorial dispute and allegations that Japan is seeking to gloss over its colonial history when it occupied the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea had previously refused to hold a summit with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, angered by his visits to a shrine that honours war criminals. The two countries have also argued over claims to a set of islets in waters between them now under South Korean control.
"The upcoming Korea-Japan summit is expected to facilitate the establishment of mutual trust between the two leaders as well as the improvement of bilateral relations," Roh's office said. However, Japanese officials refused to confirm the announcement and insisted they still wanted Abe to meet Chinese and South Korean leaders on the same trip, suggesting Tokyo would not go ahead with a summit only with Seoul.
"We hope to visit South Korea and China in a single trip, so we will announce it when both have been arranged," Hakubun Shimomura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, said when asked if Japan would accept a single summit in Seoul without arranging another one with China.
"At this point, if we are to visit, our basic stance is to visit both countries together. We are still trying arrange the schedule and are not the stage at which we can announce officially" that the talks will take place, Shimomura said.
He refused to comment about whether there were troubles arranging the summit with China.