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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: June 7, 2010 NO. 23 JUNE 10, 2010
Stressing But Promising
China, Japan and South Korea explore a path to community



Leaders of China, Japan and South Korea held their third summit on Jeju Island, South Korea, in late May—the outcome of the three countries' strengthened trilateral cooperation.

This year, regional cooperation and policy coordination have become increasingly closer in East Asia, within the framework of "ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Plus Three (China, Japan and South Korea)."

ASEAN has said it will strive to create a group of communities bearing its name during the next five years. These will be the ASEAN Economic Community, the ASEAN Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.

Based on these three communities, a larger East Asia Community could be gradually established. But because of present uncertainties in the region, the building of the East Asia Community still has a long way to go.

Economic integration


AMAZING CRAFT: Exquisite Japanese floral representations attract many at the Sixth China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo in Nanning, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on October 20, 2009 (ZHANG AILIN) 

Geologically, East Asia is made up of two parts—Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, which are connected by the Chinese mainland. Therefore, a full realization of a free trade area (FTA) within the framework of "ASEAN Plus Three" will proclaim the formation of an East Asia Economic Community.

Mechanisms such as the East Asia Summit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will be able to serve as complements.

Currently, although China, Japan and South Korea have respectively signed free trade agreements or economic partnership agreements with many other economies, the three countries are still in the research stage with each other.

The three have kicked off joint research on the establishment of an FTA with the participation of governments, industries and academic communities. The research is expected to be completed before leaders attend a 2012 summit.

Non-governmental organizations' research says if the three can realize free trade, their personnel, goods and capital flows will grow dramatically. An FTA will mean an increase of 0.4 percent in GDP to China, 0.3 percent to Japan and 2.8 percent to South Korea.

But it still requires arduous negotiations to make it true. An important reason for this is they all have vulnerable industries in need of protection. For instance, Japan and South Korea adopt passive attitudes in the trade liberalization of agricultural products to protect their agriculture.

But in the long term, with the economic development of East Asia, the area's countries, each being the other's major markets and suppliers, will inevitably embrace regional economic integration.

In the future, China, Japan and South Korea could promote regional economic cooperation in these ways:

—They can realize the facilitation and liberalization of mutual investments by signing investment agreements. They should deepen industrial cooperation in the fields of energy conservation, environmental protection, information and telecommunications, biomedicine, new materials, and new energy to promote trade liberalization. Thus when the conditions of all these aspects are adequately developed, the three countries will go on to establish an FTA.

—They can start the construction of inter-city exchange and cooperation networks and jointly carry out large projects. Urbanization and modernization of rural areas will be a growth area of China's economy in the future. Japan and South Korea can participate in China's building of cities highlighting recyclable economy, environmental protection, and scientific and technological research. They can cooperate with China especially in the construction of sewage systems in urban and rural areas. For instance, such cooperation could be applied in the Binhai New Area of Tianjin and Caofeidian Industrial Zone of Tangshan, two large-scale projects under construction in north China.

—Tourism will greatly promote economic integration and the free flow of people in Northeast Asia. Recently, the Japanese Government said it would relax rules on Chinese tourists in July, beginning by lowering requirement about Chinese tourists' annual income from 250,000 yuan (about $36,600) to 60,000 yuan ($8,800). In the future, Japan will continue to facilitate visas for Chinese tourists. For example, Japan's Okinawa could allow visa-free entry to Chinese tourists just as South Korea's Jeju Island does.

—China, Japan and South Korea can enhance the interconnection of land, sea and air transportation. A golden triangle sea route between China's coastal ports (from Dalian, Tianjin to Hong Kong) and Japan's Okinawa can be explored. For the sake of future China-South Korea and Japan-South Korea undersea tunnels, the standardization, facilitation, and integration of related infrastructures should be taken into consideration.

—With the development of northeast China's Tumen River area and coastal regions along the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, during the negotiations of the China-South Korea FTA, China should consider giving priority to tariff reductions to goods imported from the Kaesong industrial complex developed jointly by South Korea and North Korea. This may help with moves urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and explore a new development model. In addition, it will help promote economic and transportation integration in Northeast Asia.

—The three countries could establish oil and natural gas pipeline networks together with Russia, a major energy producer. In doing so, their own advantages would complement each other, and there would be close cooperation in areas including energy development and conservation as well as environmental protection.

—They should strengthen economic, trade and financial cooperation with ASEAN, so they can turn "ASEAN Plus Three" into the East Asia Core Community.

Sustainable security

After the Cold War, East Asia established its first multilateral dialogue mechanism—the ASEAN Regional Forum. Within its framework, a future East Asia Security Community could be gradually created based on the ASEAN Security Community and multilateral security mechanisms in Northeast Asia.

To achieve this, there are five necessary conditions. First, ASEAN should complete its security community as scheduled, and ASEAN nations should maintain peace and stability.

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