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Trilateral Thinking
Cooperation between China, Japan and South Korea under the Belt and Road Initiative spells a new era for East Asia
By Liu Yun | NO. 22 MAY 31, 2018

Wang Shouwen, China's Vice Minister of Commerce, Kim Youngsam, South Korean Deputy Minister for Trade & Investment and Japan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kazuyuki Yamazaki (left to right) attend the 13th round of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement in Seoul on March 23 (XINHUA)

At the seventh China-Japan-Republic of Korea (ROK) leaders' meeting held in Tokyo in early May, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed to jointly push forward economic globalization and safeguard free trade, as well as build a China-Japan-ROK+X model of cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. His proposal was well received by leaders of the other two countries. In the future, the three nations, as the bellwethers of Asian development, are expected to strengthen cooperation in several key areas under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Changing times

Japan, once an opponent of the Belt and Road Initiative, has undergone a recent change in perspective, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now signaling his willingness to participate in the program.

In a meeting on May 10, Abe observed that China-Japan relations are shifting from competition to coordination and cooperation. The common interests of the countries far outweigh their differences, and even these disparities can be managed and defused through dialogue. Mutually beneficial cooperation will become possible by breaking the cycle of endless skepticism and competition.

As President Xi Jinping pointed out in his keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2018, the Belt and Road is a new initiative, and it is perfectly natural for there to be different views. As long as all parties embrace the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits, it will be possible to enhance cooperation and resolve differences. In this way, the Belt and Road Initiative can become the broadest platform for international cooperation, one in keeping with the trend of economic globalization and for the greater benefit of all peoples.

China, Japan and the ROK can also combine their development strategies for deeper integration and the further development of Northeast Asia. Peace and stability is the common aspiration of the world, while Cold War thinking and zero-sum games can only bring ruin. The three countries are inheritors, beneficiaries and supporters of oriental wisdom. Now, they must stand together for a new, hard-won Asian era.

The three nations are not only neighbors but important world economies, with their trade volume exceeding $640 billion in 2017, and in the face of the common development bottlenecks affecting the region each has produced its own respective strategy. Made in China 2025 is guided by the basic principle of innovation-driven, high-quality and green development, optimizing economic structures and cultivating talent. Japan's growth strategy seeks to stimulate the vitality of private enterprises, improve the employment environment, promote globalization and respond to an ageing society, while the ROK is using nine national strategic programs, including artificial intelligence, driverless technology, light materials, smart cities and virtual reality to propel economic growth and improve people's livelihoods.

With the arrival of a new revolution in science and technology, these development strategies share many things in common. There exists considerable scope for cooperation in renewable energy and environmental protection, technological innovation, high-end manufacturing and the sharing economy. However, the rate of integration in Northeast Asia falls far behind the times.

Trade interdependency between the three is less than 20 percent, lacking in regional service trade and trade system arrangements, hindering the overall development of Asia and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. During the recent meeting in Tokyo, China and Japan signed two cooperation documents on strengthening service trade and third-party market cooperation. China is also to grant a 200 billion yuan ($31.4 billion) investment quota to Japan to buy Chinese stocks, marking a step toward the deeper integration of the Northeast Asian economy.

X factor

The proposal of the China-Japan-ROK+X model will serve to concentrate the strengths of the three nations and introduce a framework for broader Asian development.

The continent is home to many countries in various stages of development. As major economies and regional powers, China, Japan and the ROK should give full play to their respective advantages in equipment, technology, capital and engineering to jointly open up fourth-party markets and promote the rapid development of Asia. A China-Japan-ROK free trade zone would be the foundation of the China-Japan-ROK+X model and a platform on which to promote policy coordination.

Not long after the proposal of the Belt and Road Initiative, the ROK Government proposed the amalgamation of its Eurasia Initiative with its Chinese counterpart. Premier Li pointed out that as China, Japan and the ROK build a new dynamic, all three have a responsibility to promote regional stability and development, to accelerate the development of a free trade zone and to act on suggestions of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership so as to safeguard free trade and maintain stable and sustained economic growth in the region.

China, Japan and the ROK can also strengthen cooperation through openness and innovation, encouraging competition and cooperation in business, and sharing Asian development

The enterprises of each country have respective advantages in terms of equipment, technology, finance and market access, which provides the foundation for cooperation with a fourth market. Through the China-Japan-ROK+X model, the three countries will be able to construct joint programs in production capacity, poverty relief, disaster management, energy saving and environmental protection. Expanding cooperation in these areas will help the three to explore into a fourth market.

Sadayuki Sakakibara, Director of the Keidanren business federation, also expressed his hope that the three countries can strengthen cooperation in a fourth market under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially in the construction of ports, roads and railways in other Asian nations. The Belt and Road Initiative, as a new platform for trilateral cooperation, will also provide more opportunities for their businesses to tap into the international market.

Questions remain over the direction of human society in an increasingly volatile world, and the future of Asia has been, until recently, no less uncertain. The Belt and Road Initiative, however, has presented unparalleled opportunities to the world and reinvigorated a form of multilateralism that had begun to falter, as well as rejuvenating the political and economic integration of Europe and Asia. At a time of great global political and economic transformation, the efforts of China, Japan and the ROK toward development by focusing on the Belt and Road Initiative are the product of the inevitable progress of history and necessitated by global stability. The integration of trilateral cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative can become the foundation for a prosperous world and an open and innovative Asia.

The author is a research fellow with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The article was first published by China.org.cn in Chinese

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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