China Tries to Shakeup Japan-U.S.-ROK Ties; Seeks Opportunity at Summit to Revitalize Economy

Pool Photo via AP
Chinese Premier Li Qiang speaks during a joint news conference in Seoul on Monday.

SEOUL ― China’s attendance at the latest trilateral summit with Japan and South Korea likely came from its intention to make the event an opportunity to revitalize its economy, which has faced an ongoing slowdown, by expanding exchanges with the two countries.

Against the backdrop of the confrontation between China and the United States, it is believed that Beijing also intends to drive a wedge between Japan, the United States and South Korea.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang proposed at Monday’s meeting that the three countries “deepen economic and trade connectivity, maintain the stability and smoothness of the industrial chain and supply chain, and resume and complete the negotiations of the China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) as soon as possible.”

The three leaders also included wording in a joint statement to speed up negotiations toward signing the FTA.

Sustainable economic development is essential for the Chinese Communist Party to maintain its one-party rule. Li told the chairman of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. on Sunday that foreign-invested enterprises are a critical force for China’s development and urged increased investment from the company.

The combined gross domestic product of Japan, China and South Korea makes up more than 20% of the world’s total. To boost the economy, China has high expectations for a trilateral FTA that would lead to expanded trade. By embracing Japan and South Korea, China possibly aims to establish an economic zone in the Asia-Pacific region without the United States.

China likely wants to disrupt the security alliance between Japan, the United States and South Korea as the three strengthen their security ties.

Li proposed at a joint press conference that China, Japan and South Korea “strengthen strategic communication and deepen political mutual trust.” He also touched on the need for “consideration of each other’s core interests and vital concerns” and “adherence to genuine multilateralism,” as a warning to the United States and other countries that are becoming increasingly involved in Taiwan.

However, President Xi Jinping’s administration does not believe that Japan and South Korea would easily compromise with China. China is expected to continue strengthening relations with North Korea and Russia to balance against Japan, the United States and South Korea.