Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul must seek cooperation

By Huang Dahui Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/13 19:13:40

According to reports in Japanese media, the 2016 China-Japan-South Korea leaders' meeting, scheduled for December 19 in Tokyo, may be postponed to next year owing to the recent political turmoil in South Korea. As an important communication mechanism, this meeting is of high importance for the trilateral relationship.

The reopening of the three-party leaders' meeting has proceeded for nearly three and a half years. If the meeting is to be held in Tokyo this year, it means that Chinese and South Korean leaders will pay their first visits to Japan since Shinzo Abe began his second term as prime minister in 2012. Any delay will have negative impacts on trilateral relations.

Before the second half of last year, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's more active attitude had helped promote Sino-South Korean relations. However, South Korea has since gradually moved closer to the US and Japan, alienating China. Japan and South Korea signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement and reached an apparent resolution on the "comfort women" issue.

With the support of the US, South Korea promoted the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which has deteriorated its relations with China. Although South Korea is a small country, it plays a balancing role in China-Japan-South Korea relations. With South Korea's inclination toward the US and Japan, relations among the three countries have altered for the worse.

South Korea has seen political turbulence due to the Choi Soon-sil (a close friend of Park) scandal. Although showing willingness to strengthen relations with China, the Abe administration recently said that it will not recognize China's market economy status. With President-elect Donald Trump, the US may change policy toward the Asia-Pacific region, which will have direct effects on China-Japan-South Korea relations.

From a long-term perspective, if Park steps down and opposition parties come into power, Seoul may adjust its policies toward THAAD deployment. A series of agreements reached by South Korea and Japan, such as those on the "comfort women" issue, may be overthrown as the opposition parties have a tougher stance on issues related to Japan. In this case, South Korea will adopt a more balanced diplomacy between China and Japan.

Another important factor in China-Japan-South Korea relations is the US. The Barack Obama administration actively promoted the pivot to Asia-Pacific strategy, highlighting security in the region and exacerbating tensions between the three countries. After Trump takes office, he may focus more on domestic issues, demanding less US influence in the region. And China, Japan and South Korea will devote more efforts to cooperation in economy.

Nevertheless, if the US weakens its presence in the Asia-Pacific region, it may allow its allies to play a greater role. Japan is likely to take on the role. Thus, Japan's autonomy will be enhanced, and it may stir up strife with China on the Diaoyu Islands or the South China Sea.

In addition, US trade protectionism may gain ground after Trump's inauguration, which will intensify trade frictions between the US and China. Japan might cooperate with the US to put pressure on China in economy.

In the future, China, Japan and South Korea should make efforts to improve their relations. First, the three countries should take positive steps to increase regional cooperation and establish mechanisms such as the Free Trade Area and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This is beneficial to the future development of the three countries.

Second, the three countries should strengthen personnel exchanges and enhance strategic mutual trust, especially that between China and Japan.

Third, the three countries could strengthen cooperation in non-traditional security, such as reaching agreements in environmental issues.

Last but not least, although the three countries have closer economic ties, contradictions among the people of all three countries protrude. Implementing policies for improving trilateral relations lacks public support and a social basis. Therefore, the three countries should endeavor to implement public diplomacy in the future.

The author is the director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Renmin University of China.


blog comments powered by Disqus