Japan, China and South Korea - Trilateral cooperation in the Trump era

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Japan, China and South Korea - Trilateral cooperation in the Trump era


Cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea is becoming increasingly important to solve challenges from North Korea and to deal with uncertainty over the Trump administration’s policies.

That was the message of experts speaking at a Friends of Europe Policy Insight on 22 February, which focussed on the Seoul-based Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS). This was set up in 2011 to promote peace and prosperity between the three countries, which share close economic ties but often have tense relations over territorial and other issues. In particular, they have long struggled to resolve problems related to their conflicts in the first half of the 20th century. China’s traditional support for North Korea has also caused friction.

Behind these headline-grabbing problems however, the three countries have been quietly building the foundations of a constructive relationship. They have much to gain: They all depend heavily on trade for growth, and they face economic challenges – either immediate or upcoming – as their societies age quickly. Moreover, following the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, it is not clear how the Trump presidency will affect the regional power balance – and how it might react to a further escalation in aggressive actions by North Korea.

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Japan, China and South Korea – trilateral cooperation in the Trump era

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Japan, China and South Korea – trilateral cooperation in the Trump era

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Disagreements over historical issues and North Korea have long strained relations between Japan, China and South Korea but with US policy towards East Asia expected to enter a new phase, the three Asian powers are reassessing their political and economic ties. Leaders of Japan, China and South Korea have held several trilateral Summits since 2008, most recently in Seoul in 2015. The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat set up following the historical 2008 meeting has a mandate to promote peace and common prosperity between the three countries. Despite the vision, however, struggles for regional influence and power, bilateral tensions and historical and territorial disputes continue to be serious obstacles to greater cooperation.

  • How will the Trump presidency affect East Asian efforts at enhanced trilateral cooperation?
  • What progress has the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat made since its opening in 2011?
  • Can greater trade and investment links help countries in the region move past historical grievances?
  • Can Europe encourage and support cooperation among the three North East Asian states?

IMAGE CREDITS: CC/Flickr – FutureAtlas.comOlivier/Bigstock.com; CC/Flickr – Nathan Congleton; Antaris/Bigstock.com


Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project



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Japan, China and South Korea: Trilateral cooperation in the Trump era


Photo of Jong-heon Lee
Jong-heon Lee

Deputy Secretary-General at the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat

Show more information on Jong-heon Lee

Jong-Heon Lee joined the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS) as Deputy Secretary General in 2013. The TCS is an international organisation established in 2011, by China, Japan and the ROK, as an official forum to facilitate, coordinate and promote communication on political, economic, socio-cultural affairs between the three countries. Prior to joining the TCS, Lee worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the ROK, including as Director of Foreign Affairs and National Security and as Senior Director of the Strategic Planning Department in the National Security Council.

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Song Xinning

Jean Monnet Chair ad personam and Research Director of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University of China

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Xinning is a leading expert on EU-China relations and Chinese foreign policy. He has occupied numerous research position and professorships at leading universities including the London School of Economics and the United Nations University and was a Fulbright Professor at the University of California and George Washington University. He is currently China Director at the Brussels Academy for China Europe Studies (BACES).

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Julian Wilson

Head of Division Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS)

Show more information on Julian Wilson

In his current position, Julian Wilson oversees relations with Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. An expert on EU-Asian relations, he has previously held high-level positions within the EEAS including as Head of Unit for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka and as EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and to Indonesia, Brunei and ASEAN. In 2001, he set up the EU’s aid programmes to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime.


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