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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: June 7, 2010 NO. 23 JUNE 10, 2010
A Successful Trialogue
China, Japan and South Korea cement trilateral cooperation


SEEDS OF CHANGE: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and then Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama plant a tree in South Korea's southern resort island of Jeju on May 30 (PANG XINGLEI) 

China, Japan and South Korea, according to a newly released tripartite document, will enhance their cooperation on a wide range of vital issues from economy to environmental protection and nuclear non-proliferation, which Chinese analysts say will have worldwide implications.

The 10-year blueprint for cooperation, adopted at the Third Trilateral Summit Meeting in South Korea's resort island of Jeju on May 29, was underscored by resolute pledges by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, then Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak for more proactive relations over the coming decade.

A future course

Over the next 10 years, the three countries, in the name of boosting trade, will fight protectionism, while improving overall trade climate, the document noted.

They also pledged to finish a joint feasibility study for a trilateral free trade agreement involving officials, entrepreneurs and scholars by 2012. The project was launched this May, upon the completion of a nongovernment, academic research program on the prospective free trade area of the three East Asian neighbors.

In the coming years, the three countries will negotiate an investment agreement facilitating a free flow of capital throughout the region, the document said.

With a combined 1.5 billion consumers, China, Japan and South Korea make up 70 percent of Asia's gross domestic product and 19 percent of the world's total, according to Sun Zhe, a professor at the Institute of International Studies of Tsinghua University.

Given their vast market potential, Sun said, the three countries stand poised to forge closer political and economic ties. The resolution of these relations, though complex, will serve as an example for other countries, he added.

Meanwhile, the three countries pledged closer cooperation in finance, science and technology and innovation, while enhancing consultations on policies regarding industry, energy efficiency and natural resources. Food safety improvement was also identified as a priority.

To address climate change, the three countries agreed on joint efforts to support the coming UN climate change summit in Mexico later this year. These shall include the establishment of a more effective framework for international efforts to combat global warming after 2012 when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

In addition, a consensus was reached on joint measures including the establishment of a trilateral cooperation secretariat in South Korea by 2011, along with heightened governmental exchanges at local levels.

The possibility of a trilateral defense dialogue mechanism will also be discussed, according to the document.

The three countries, moreover, will strengthen collaboration within the framework of regional arrangements such as ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) plus China, Japan and South Korea, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea attending ASEAN events held their first trilateral meeting in the Philippines in 1999. They met eight times under the auspices of ASEAN before deciding to hold independent summits in 2007.

The inaugural independent Trilateral Summit Meeting was held in Fukuoka, Japan, in December 2008, followed by the Beijing meeting last October.

Varied concerns

With distinct—and, at times, divergent—diplomatic focuses, China, Japan and South Korea have varied concerns over regional and international hotspot issues, said Qu Xing, President of the China Institute of International Studies.

These trilateral summits are thus a priority, Qu added, as they provide opportunities for the three countries' leaders to exchange views on these issues and enhance mutual understanding.

Take the sinking of South Korea's Cheonan warship. On March 26, 46 lives were lost when the Cheonan was allegedly torpedoed, and sank off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to the findings of a South Korea-led international investigation released two months later.

North Korea, however, rejected the charge and vowed to sever all relations with South Korea, bringing tensions along the 38th Parallel to a new high.

In this sense, it was important that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for efforts to safeguard peace and stability in the region at the Jeju summit, Qu said.

During a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, Wen said China has taken the results of the investigation—as well as the reactions of different parties—seriously. China will make its own judgment on the Cheonan incident "in an objective and fair manner," he said.

China condemns any acts damaging peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, Wen said. The Chinese premier, also, called on all parties to exercise restraint to prevent the escalation of current tensions.

Wen called for a resumption of the stalled six-party talks involving North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. Launched in 2003 with the aim of resolving the issue of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula, the talks hit a stalemate in April 2009 when Pyongyang withdrew in protest of the UN Security Council's condemnation over its alleged satellite launch.

Many South Koreans feel the six-party talks should not be resumed until the Cheonan incident is properly addressed—an attitude that can only worsen matters, Qu said. Talks instead of isolation, he added, are the best way to defuse tensions.

In the Jeju summit document, participating leaders reiterated that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be essential to "lasting peace, security and economic prosperity" in Northeast Asia.

It is a goal, the document added, that would be best achieved through the six-party talks.

Bilateral ties

Apart from attending the Jeju summit, Wen paid visits to South Korea, Japan, Mongolia and Myanmar from May 28 to June 3.

During their meeting in Seoul, Wen and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak agreed to jointly advance the China-South Korea "strategic and cooperative partnership" first established in 2008 during Lee's visit to Beijing.

The Chinese premier suggested the two countries enter into negotiations on a free trade agreement later this year or in the first half of 2011. He also called on the two countries to raise their trade volume to $200 billion by 2012 and to $300 billion by 2015.

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