Trilateral summit symbolizes a new starting point for deeper collaboration
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2024-06-03  ·   Source: NO.23 JUNE 6, 2024
Chinese Premier Li Qiang attends the Ninth Trilateral Summit Meeting of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) together with ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul, the ROK, on May 27 (XINHUA)

Stalled for more than four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical interferences, the Ninth Trilateral Summit Meeting between China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) was held in Seoul, capital of the ROK, on May 27. The gathering reiterated that amity and mutual trust should be the key tone of the trio's relations to benefit themselves as well as the peace and prosperity of the region and beyond.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had several in-depth exchanges at both the summit meeting and bilateral meetings on its sidelines. They also attended the Eighth Trilateral Business Summit in Seoul on the same day.

As this year marks the 25th anniversary of the China-Japan-ROK trilateral cooperation mechanism, Li said at this new starting point, the three neighbors should stay committed to their original aspiration for cooperation and uphold openness, inclusiveness, mutual respect and trust, mutual benefit and mutual learning.

He added that they should upgrade and speed up China-Japan-ROK cooperation, embark on a new journey of comprehensive development, and contribute more to regional prosperity and stability.

Trilateral cooperation, consisting of the three bilateral relations between China, Japan and the ROK, serves as the engine for solidifying fundamentals and complements bilateral relations, Jaeho Hwang, Director of the Seoul-based Institute for Global Strategy and Cooperation, told Xinhua News Agency.


The China-Japan-ROK cooperation mechanism originated in the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) regional cooperation framework in the 1990s, which consists of the 10 ASEAN countries, China, Japan and the ROK. Fan Xiaoju, Director of the Institute of Northeast Asian Studies of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said it has now become the most influential sub-regional cooperation mechanism in the region.

In recent years, more than 100 exchange and cooperation projects have been implemented under the mechanism, making positive contributions to improving the wellbeing of the three populations and promoting regional prosperity and development, she added.

The re-gathering of leaders will help promote the orderly resumption of trilateral exchange and cooperation at all levels and in all fields, and gradually deepen and achieve solid results, Xiang Haoyu, a researcher with the Department for Asia-Pacific Studies of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), told China News Service.

At the summit meeting, the three leaders agreed to deliver on the Trilateral Cooperation Vision for the Next Decade adopted at the Eighth Trilateral Summit Meeting in 2019, create new mechanisms for trilateral cooperation, maintain close communication and cooperation under the APT and other multilateral frameworks, and jointly uphold global peace, stability and prosperity.

They also voiced their hopes for the three countries to deepen cooperation in six key areas: cultural and people-to-people exchanges, sustainable development, economy and trade, public health, science and technology and disaster relief.

The leaders further agreed to designate 2025-26 the China-Japan-ROK Year of Cultural Exchange. They also vowed to increase the number of people-to-people exchanges in the fields of culture, tourism and education among the three countries to 40 million by 2030.

Following the summit, the Joint Declaration of the Ninth China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Summit, the Joint Statement on a 10-Year Vision for Trilateral IP Cooperation and the Joint Statement on Future Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response were issued.

Commenting on the three countries' declaration to institutionalize trilateral cooperation, Liu Qing, CIIS Vice President, said by committing to regular dialogue and collaboration, the trio can address common challenges and leverage their collective strengths for mutual benefit.

"The renewed focus on cooperation sets a hopeful tone for the future, where Asia can become a cornerstone of peace and development in the global arena," Liu said.

FTA negotiations 

At the summit meeting, Li called on the three countries to "deepen economic and trade connectivity, maintain the stability and smoothness of the industrial and supply chains, and resume and complete the negotiations of the China-Japan-ROK free trade agreement (FTA) as soon as possible," Xinhua reported.

The three leaders agreed to resume talks on the three-way FTA, which were suspended in November 2019 following 16 rounds of official negotiations since they first got underway in 2012.

China is the largest trading partner of both the ROK and Japan, and together, they make up about 25 percent of the global GDP and 20 percent of global trade.

In 2023, Japan and the ROK were China's second and third largest trading partners, respectively. At the same time, Japan and the ROK are both important sources of foreign investment in China, with both countries' cumulative investment in China exceeding $100 billion.

Resuming FTA negotiations will help them give full play to their economic complementarity, strengthen trade and investment cooperation and achieve foreign trade and economic growth against the sluggish recovery of the world economy and rising geopolitical tensions, Zhang Jifeng, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Global Times.

They have the potential to deepen cooperation in a variety of sectors, including the digital economy, green economy, as well as industrial and supply chains, he added.

The leaders also committed to a "transparent, smooth and effective" implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an FTA among 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including the three nations, the 10 ASEAN members, Australia and New Zealand.

Strategic autonomy 

Li stressed that China, Japan and the ROK should uphold the spirit of strategic autonomy, maintain bilateral relations, promote a multipolar world, and oppose bloc or camp politics.

He called for opposing turning economic and trade issues into political games or security matters, and rejecting protectionism as well as decoupling or the severing of supply chains.

The United States wields a strong influence over Japan and the ROK, and this poses more challenges for the two East Asian economies to push regional economic integration with China, given Washington expects Tokyo and Seoul to serve its hegemonic purpose to contain China, Fan said.

"The U.S. is undoubtedly the biggest obstacle for China-Japan-ROK cooperation. Washington sees Tokyo and Seoul as its followers, and will surely get distressed when its two allies engage with its perceived top competitor," Lu Chao, an expert on the Korean Peninsula at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told Global Times.

On regional security issues, the current cooperation among China, Japan and the ROK is far from sufficient to eliminate the damaging impact of enhanced security cooperation between the U.S., Japan and the ROK on regional peace, Fan said.

However, enhanced dialogue and communication among China, Japan and the ROK is in itself a powerful response to the Cold War-like confrontation promoted by the U.S., and will play a constructive role in easing tensions and maintaining regional peace, she added.

"None of the Japan-U.S. and ROK-U.S.alliances are based on equal relations, which are different from their ties with China. We hope the two countries can act with autonomy and make decisions based on their own national interests and the shared interests of the region," Lu concluded.   

(Print edition title: Restarting Forward Momentum 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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