Japan-China-ROK summit: Three Nations Should Build Cooperation Step by Step for Regional Stability

While it is important for the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea to promote communication with each other, the deep gulf that exists between China and the other two countries regarding security issues was also highlighted once again.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met in Seoul and adopted a joint declaration focused on cooperation in six areas, including people-to-people exchanges, the economy and trade.

The joint declaration set a goal of increasing the number of people involved in exchanges among the three countries from 30.54 million in 2018 to 40 million by 2030, through the promotion of cultural, tourism and educational exchanges. It also stated that Japan, South Korea and China intend to promote negotiations for the conclusion of a free trade agreement (FTA) among them.

However, it is likely that the three governments focused their agreement on areas involving the least confrontation.

Trilateral summits stopped being held due to such factors as the deterioration of Japan-South Korea relations since the last one was held in China at the end of 2019. It is crucial for the leaders of the three countries to build tangible forms of cooperation step by step for regional stability, taking advantage of the three countries’ leaders meeting in person for the first time in 4½ years.

However, there have been noticeable setbacks with regard to security.

The outcome document for the previous summit stated, “We are committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” This time, however, the joint declaration only states, “We reiterated positions … respectively” on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Regarding North Korea’s notification that it would launch a “satellite” on the day of the meeting, Li simply said that relevant parties should exercise restraint and prevent the situation from becoming more complicated.

These are likely an indication that China is defending North Korea which is increasing military provocations. China should be aware that this attitude is encouraging North Korea to become more aggressive. Japan should strengthen security cooperation with the United States and South Korea.

A Japan-China summit also took place, and Kishida urged Li to immediately lift China’s ban on imports of Japanese marine products. He also sought the removal of a buoy that China has installed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Li reportedly did not agree to either request.

Li’s unwillingness to solve pending issues is regrettable. China may be hoping to attract investment amid its real estate slump, but with such an attitude, there is little hope of that.

As for Japan-South Korea relations, the majority opposition party in the South Korean national assembly is calling for the withdrawal of a solution to the lawsuits related to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, in which a government-affiliated foundation will pay an amount equivalent to compensation.

Kishida held a bilateral summit with Yoon and agreed to have close communication and strengthen relations. The prime minister needs to utilize the trust he has built with Yoon to encourage the South Korean side to steadily implement the solution.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2024)