Top diplomats from South Korea, China and Japan will hold three-way talks early next month on regional security and cooperation, Seoul's foreign ministry said Thursday, with North Korea's rocket plan expected to be a hot topic on the sidelines.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan will hold the two-day tripartite talks with China's Yang Jiechi and Japan's Koichiro Gemba in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo starting April 7, ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said.
The three-way meeting, the sixth of its kind, comes as North Korea has defied international condemnation and pressed ahead with its plan to launch a satellite into orbit on the back of a long-range rocket sometime between April 12 and 16.
"It is certain that the issue (of North Korea's planned rocket launch) will be discussed bilaterally on the sidelines of the trilateral talks," Cho said.
Earlier on Thursday, Japan's Tokyo Shimbun reported that Pyongyang has started fueling a rocket for the planned launch, citing a source close to North Korea. Cho said he could not confirm the report, saying it is an intelligence matter.
South Korea, the United States and Japan have condemned the North's rocket plan as a disguised test of its improved international ballistic missile technology.
The North's maneuver also puts in jeopardy an aid-for-denuclearization deal Pyongyang signed with Washington in late February.
South Korean and Japanese military officials have said they would shoot down the rocket if it violates their airspace.
Pyongyang's missile program has long been a regional security concern, along with its nuclear programs. The country is believed to have advanced ballistic missile technology, though it is still not clear whether it has mastered the technology to put a nuclear warhead on a missile.
North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests, first in 2006 and then in 2009.