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Shi Yongming
Special> Focus on Korean Peninsula> Beijing Review Exclusive> Opinion> Shi Yongming
UPDATED: October 26, 2009 NO. 43 OCTOBER 29, 2009
A Big Step Forward
China, Japan and South Korea promise a considerable leap in trilateral cooperation at their second summit

Pro-American groups inside Japan will invariably seek to change such a strategy. Should Hatoyama prove unable to accommodate the United States while pursuing this policy, Japan's Asian policy will still suffer serious reversals. In other words, the extent to which Tokyo can establish a domestic consensus on Asian integration will determine its influence in East Asian cooperation.

The third, and perhaps biggest, challenge is regional security. This is due to the fact that the main players are not all East Asian countries.

Nuclear proliferation and tensions on the Korean Peninsula offer a prime example. Although the summit devoted considerable time to this issue, much more cooperation is needed.

South Korea unveiled a "grand bargain" plan by which it hoped to play a leading role. The key players along the 38th Parallel, however, remain North Korea and the United States. Judging by the current situation, it will be nothing less than a long-term endeavor. And, should this effort fail, the ability for trust and cooperation will be hindered in the region.

Lastly, territorial disputes, if left to fester, will similarly impact strategic relations. They can also lead to conflict at any time.

Thus understanding the nature of potential sources of conflict—as well as what could trigger them—is essential to China, Japan and South Korea.

Overall, trilateral cooperation has managed to enhance relations among the three powers—thereby maximizing their gains. With this in mind, it is important that Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing all move forward with the process.

New kinetics

In East Asian cooperation following the Cold War, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) served as a driving force, akin to a situation of a small horse pulling a big cart.

There are two reasons behind this analogy. First, political fragmentation in post-Cold War Southeast Asia was, by far, the most important priority in East Asia. The interference of major countries had almost always been at the root of this turbulence in Southeast Asia. But in the end, it was Southeast Asian nations themselves who have begun their integration process. Their first task was to support the development of ASEAN.

Second, the two big East Asian powers—China and Japan—lacked stable strategic relations and thus had difficulties in jointly playing a sustainable role. In the past, China, Japan and South Korea had only been separately tied to ASEAN through the "ASEAN plus three" mechanism. This factor, of course, restrained the influence of the three major powers to a great degree.

Currently, all three nations are constructing a stable cooperation mechanism —independent of external summit meetings of the ASEAN member states. This equates to new kinetics and diversified forces between Asian countries.

Joint Statement on the 10th Anniversary of Trilateral Cooperation Among the People's Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (Excerpts)

Since the launch of the trilateral cooperation in 1999, the common interests of the three countries have continuously grown, the mechanisms for dialogue have been further broadened and cooperation in a whole range of fields has been promoted, yielding highly fruitful results.

The three countries have enhanced political mutual trust through the forging of a future-oriented comprehensive cooperative partnership.

With the rapid increase in trilateral economic cooperation as well as trade and investment, the three countries have emerged as important trading partners to one another. Cultural and people-to-people exchanges were dynamic and close, which greatly enhanced the mutual understanding and friendship among the peoples.

The three countries remained committed to the development of an East Asia community based on the principles of openness, transparency,

inclusiveness as a long term goal, and to regional cooperation, while maintaining increased trilateral communication and coordination on regional and international affairs.

Mutual respect, equality, common interests, openness, transparency and respect for our diverse cultures constitute the foundation and guarantee for trilateral cooperation, and these principles should be followed in future trilateral cooperation. In the spirit of facing history squarely and advancing toward the future, the three countries will explore the potential and expand the areas of cooperation.

We will push the trilateral relations forward in the direction of good neighborliness, mutual trust, comprehensive cooperation, mutual benefit and common development. We are convinced that this will contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity.

Source: Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The author is an associate research fellow with the China Institute of International Studies

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