Trilateral cooperation: Ushering in a new era for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia

Updated: 2016-04-28 23:13

By Yang Houlan(The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat)

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Trilateral cooperation: Ushering in a new era for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia

Yang Houlan, Secretary-General of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Spring is coming and flowers are in full blossom. In this beautiful season, distinguished guests from China, Japan and Korea are gathering at Beijing to celebrate an important event—the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation (IFTC). Organized by Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, the IFTC is a significant platform for sharing constructive proposals for developing future-oriented trilateral partnership among China, Japan and Korea and raising public awareness of the trilateral cooperation.

Development of Trilateral Cooperation

China, Japan and Korea, the three neighboring countries with close economic and cultural bond, play increasingly crucial role in promoting regional peace and stability that shapes the desirable landscape of Northeast Asia.

Since inaugurated in 1999, the trilateral cooperation has witnessed prolific growth in wide spectrums. Besides Summit, the three countries have established 20 ministerial-level consultative mechanisms. Economically, the trade volume of the three countries exceeded 6900 billion USD in 2014, accounting for nearly 20% of world trade volume. CJK FTA and RCEP negotiations are ongoing and immense potentials are expected to expedite regional economic integration. People-to-people exchange is deepening. The number of visitors traveling among the three countries hit 20 million for first time in 2014. Over 600 cities have forged sister-city relationship. "East Asian Cultural Cities" has become a showcase of splendid culture of the three countries. Students participating in the "CAMPUS Asia" program have shown their global competitiveness equipped by multi-lingual proficiency and thorough knowledge of East Asian cultures and values.

New Opportunities for Trilateral Cooperation after 6th Trilateral Summit

"What's past is prologue". Thanks to the joint effort of the three countries and TCS, the Trilateral Summit was resumed last year after three and a half year break, injecting new impetus to the trilateral cooperation. High-level talks and mutual visits have become a regular occurrence, business cooperation is gaining momentum, and people-to-people exchanges are booming.

Immense potentials are expected to be tapped in the areas of education, sport and think-tank exchange. The 1st Education Ministers Meeting held early this year declared to expand education exchange by developing "CAMPUS Asia" into a full-fledged project. As PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing will consecutively host Olympics/Winter Olympics in the coming six years, there will be numerous opportunities for sports exchange among the three countries. The establishment of Trilateral Cooperation Think-tank Network will provide strong intellectual support to the three countries' opinions.

Revitalizing the Trilateral Summit also opens new doors for trilateral cooperation in economic-related sectors. As enumerated in the Joint Declaration of the Summit, the three countries could boost each country's economy by synergizing similar national policies--China's mass entrepreneurship and innovation policy, ROK's creative economy policy and Japan's revitalizing policies, through trilateral economic cooperation. The three countries could also explore new cooperative areas such as improvement of Supply Chain Connectivity, cooperation on production capacity in the fourth-party-market, and cooperation in new industries of high-added value in bio and healthcare and environment sector, as well as e-commerce, software and cultural content.

Challenge Ahead and Future Direction

Entering 2016, we shoulder even more important mission to sustain the momentum of cooperation and advance the trilateral relations to a new height. However, we cannot neglect the fact that Northeast Asia is regrettably overshadowed by escalating regional tensions. Some people even worry that this would undermine the momentum of trilateral cooperation which has been "completely restored" after the Summit.

It must be admitted that unrest and conflicts in the region do go against the fundamental interests of the three countries and is the least we want to see. In fact, the three leaders have made clear consensus in the Joint Declaration in the 6th Trilateral Summit that, "maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia is in common interest of the three countries". At this critical juncture, the three countries should uphold their joint commitment, cherish the hard-earned fruits in trilateral cooperation despite fluid situations in the region, and walk toward one direction to continue to develop trilateral cooperation unwaveringly. We should make joint effort to reduce suspicion and enhance mutual trust among concerned parties, and work cooperatively to settle the regional problems in peaceful manner. To this end, the three governments should play constructive role in continuing existing political and security dialogues as well as implementing new cooperative initiatives such as Trilateral Law-Enforcement Consultation, Non-Proliferation Consultation and promoting high-level dialogue among militaries of the three countries.

Significance of IFTC

As an organization established and entrusted by the three governments, the TCS feels a deep sense of responsibility to revitalize the momentum of trilateral cooperation. Even with short history, the TCS has continued its efforts to make valuable contributions to the institutionalization of the trilateral cooperation in the past years. To sustain the momentum of trilateral cooperation regained after the 6th Trilateral Summit, TCS organized this timely IFTC to further promote the trilateral cooperation by collecting wisdom from the prominent stakeholders in political, academic, business and social fields from the three countries. Moreover, this year's IFTC will convene coincidently with the 1st Trilateral Forum on Public Diplomacy to enhance mutual understanding and friendship among the peoples of the three countries. I hope the three countries can take this opportunity to send positive messages to the people of the region that the trilateral cooperation still stands firm as an engine for peace and prosperity not only of this region but also the world at large. To this end, the TCS hopes that the Forum can encourage people to take a fresh look at their commonalities based on shared understanding on diversification, through which the three countries may find brighter and prosperous future together.

* The Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS) is an inter-governmental organization established in 2011 to promote peace and common prosperity of China, Japan and Korea. The author is the current Secretary-General of the TCS.