Critical issues raise hopes from China, Japan, South Korea trilateral meet

By Su Hao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/22 20:08:39

Photo: IC

The eighth China-Japan-South Korea leaders' meeting will kick off in Chengdu, capital city of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, on Tuesday. The meeting would primarily focus on regional economic cooperation and may also discuss economic relations with countries outside the region. 

As crucial economies in East Asia, the three countries should establish benign economic division of industry chain, laying the foundation for peace and development in Northeast Asia.

At the seventh trilateral summit meeting in May 2018, the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea shared the intention to explore "Trilateral+X" cooperation modality for sustainable regional development, but didn't draw a feasible plan. At the upcoming meeting, they may discuss how the three countries will coordinate to cooperate with third countries. 

Although China and the US have agreed on the text of a phase one trade deal, much remains to be done to improve their future bilateral trade relationship. China-US trade and economic ties may directly affect the economic development of Japan and South Korea, which have trade differences with the US as well. The three East Asian countries would discuss how to coordinate to deal with the economic challenge posed by countries outside the region, especially the US.

Washington, along with Tokyo and Canberra, in November unveiled the Blue Dot Network (BDN), in an attempt to "promote high-quality, trusted standards for global infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world," which is seen to rival the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It would be challenging for Japan to coordinate between BDN and BRI. 

The escalating feud between Seoul and Tokyo has been detrimental to trilateral economic relations and undermines regional cooperation. China may need to play a more proactive role in easing their bilateral tensions, so that trilateral cooperation can proceed more smoothly.

"South Korean President Moon Jae-in and [Japanese] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are to hold a one-on-one meeting on Christmas Eve on the sidelines of the trilateral summit," reported The Japan Times on Friday. Global attention has been focused on it. 

China's efforts in allaying their bilateral tensions should be effective. South Korea is currently caught in a diplomatic plight. In addition to the feud with Tokyo and discord with Pyongyang, Seoul is also in dispute with Washington over sharing the cost of US military presence. South Korea may intend to improve ties with China to alleviate its diplomatic dilemma. 

China-Japan relations have certainly improved lately. It is reported Chinese President Xi Jinping is likely to officially visit Japan in the spring of 2020. Hence, if Beijing shows willingness and efforts to help improve Tokyo-Seoul relations, Japan would respect that. 

The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue may be another important topic to be discussed at the trilateral meeting. The year-end deadline, set by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for negotiations with the US to resolve the peninsula nuclear standoff, is approaching, yet there seems to be no breakthrough. How to cope with the uncertainties on the peninsula may be the key to security agenda in the trilateral meeting.

China and Russia on December 16 proposed that the UN Security Council lift some sanctions on North Korea. This proposal should be what Japan and South Korea hope to see. North Korea has made some efforts at denuclearization, but the US has not approved them and still adheres to the sanctions, which would severely restrict economic growth of the Northeast Asian country and its economic cooperation with other regional countries.

Pyongyang has modified its strategy from Songun - military-first policy - to the one focusing on economic growth. Because of UN sanctions, it has been tough for North Korea to gain international assistance as well as economic progress. US hard-line stance has worsened the situation and turned it into an impasse. China, South Korea and Japan would all hope that US sanctions can be eased so that North Korea could pursue the path of development, so as to lay a foundation of its denuclearization. The three countries should discuss the issue or even jointly urge the US to change its mind-set in this regard.

As political and security ties among China, Japan and South Korea are complicated, the leaders' meetings have faced hurdles at times. However, the three countries are well aware of the significance of trilateral cooperation.

The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, an international organization to promote peace and common prosperity among China, Japan and South Korea, was inaugurated in Seoul in 2011. It plays a positive role in boosting trilateral cooperation. Now, interactions among heads of the three countries are needed to make trilateral cooperation more stable.

The author is founding director of the Center for Strategic and Peace Studies at the China Foreign Affairs University.


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