Japan and S.Korea should cherish China-Japan-ROK cooperation, reflect on policies toward China
Published: May 23, 2024 06:56 PM
Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Recently, the trilateral summit meeting among China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) has become a hot topic in the latter two countries. The key to further trilateral cooperation lies in whether Japan and South Korea can meet halfway with China and respect each other's development path and core interests to create a favorable atmosphere for the resumption of the trilateral meeting.

Affected by internal and external factors, recently, Japan and South Korea have actively sought to push for the China-Japan-ROK trilateral summit meeting. There are two main reasons for this. The Liberal Democratic Party will hold the general election in September, but public support for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's Cabinet this year has continued to slump, even with his high-profile visit to the US in April. Kishida, who attempts to achieve re-election, has to find another way to stimulate the public approval rating through cooperation with China and South Korea.

Kishida hopes to improve relations with China and promote high-level contacts through this trilateral meeting. Japan, as a US ally, has closely followed the US Asia-Pacific strategy. However, the US and China still maintain high-level contacts amid intensified competition, while the leaders of Japan and China have no such communication. Japan now is worried that if there is a drastic change in China-US relations, it will fall into a passive situation. Therefore, Kishida is keen to hold the trilateral meeting to facilitate the improvement of bilateral relations between China and Japan.

South Korea is the rotating chair of the China-Japan-ROK Leaders' Meeting this year. The resumption of the trilateral meeting would help boost approval ratings of the Yoon administration. In addition, Japan and South Korea are also well aware that Japan-China relations and ROK-China relations have been affected to varying degrees due to their pro-US policy. Through the trilateral dialogue, Japan and South Korea can at least first improve on their economic and trade cooperation with China.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the initiation of the China-Japan-ROK cooperation mechanism. Over the past 25 years, China-Japan-ROK cooperation has achieved fruitful results, and has become the multilateral cooperation framework with the highest degree of institutionalization, the widest coverage and the richest connotation in East Asia, effectively facilitating the development of the three countries and benefiting the people of the region. Regrettably, the China-Japan-ROK Leaders' Meeting has been interrupted for four and a half years since the eighth meeting in December 2019. 

During this period, due to the COVID-19 epidemic cooperation and exchanges among China, Japan and South Korea were limited. However, the bigger obstacle was that Japan and South Korea failed to objectively and rationally look at China's development and to take an independent policy toward China. Japan positions China as the "greatest strategic challenge," South Korea strengthens its alliance with the US, joins in the exclusive blocs in Asia Pacific and even follows the US and Japan in pointing the finger at China's internal affairs. It is precisely because of the negative policies of Japan and South Korea toward China that the trilateral cooperation has been in a standstill. 

Therefore, Japan and South Korea, should not only reflect on the previous negative policy toward China, but also cherish the trilateral cooperation. China, Japan and South Korea are close neighbors and mutually beneficial partners. In their relations with China, Japan and South Korea should, adhere to the correct direction of cooperation and friendship, refrain from ideological line-drawing, guard against interference by external factors, strengthen strategic autonomy and resist all kinds of anti-globalization and "derisking and decoupling." Moreover, Japan and South Korea should work with China, based on the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific region and the interests of the people in the region, adhere to open regionalism, practice the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and insist on resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and consultation. This is the only way China-Japan-South Korea can maintain sound, stable and sustainable cooperation.

Against the backdrop of the 25th anniversary of the China-Japan-South Korea cooperation mechanism, it would undoubtedly be of special significance if a trilateral meeting could be held. This would deepen the cooperation among the three countries, and the region at large. Seeing this as an important step, China is willing to work with Japan and South Korea to resume the trilateral relationship, and contribute wisdom to the prosperity and development of East Asia and the world.

The author is a visiting researcher at the Institute of Japan Studies, Liaoning University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn