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, experts said on 22 February.
They were speaking at a Friends of Europe Policy Insight, 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.
“The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat is characterised by future-oriented cooperation,” said Jong-heon Lee, Deputy Secretary-General of the TCS. “I believe that establishment of the TCS opened new chapter in history of Northeast Asia. There are lots of multilateral consulting mechanisms, but the region has never had a permanent consultative mechanism.”
China, South Korea and Japan have long struggled to resolve problems related to their conflicts in the first half of the twentieth century. China’s traditional support for North Korea has also caused friction.
However, the three countries have much to gain from better future relations: They all depend heavily on trade for growth, and they face economic challenges – either immediate or upcoming – as their societies age quickly. Moreover, after the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, it is not clear how the Trump presidency will affect the regional power balance – in particular how it might react to a further escalation in aggressive actions by North Korea.
While the three might take some lessons from the European Union, they will find their unique framework for cooperation, said Julian Wilson, Head of Division in the European External Action Service (EEAS) for Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. “It’s all about finding their own way forward,” he said. “I believe the prospects are considerable.”
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