Japan, China, S Korea focused on economy

Japan, China, S Korea focused on economy
South Korean President Park Geun-hye (C), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend a business summit in Seoul November 1, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

The first meeting between the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea in more than three years was marked by a focus on economic issues and an effort to maintain a harmonious mood.

China and South Korea, which have seen their economic situations deteriorate, agreed to the summit meeting by attaching importance to economic co-operation with Japan. However, they still see several historical issues as an avenue for checking Japan - although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for "normalizing the process of co-operation" between the three countries.

"All three of our nations have a saying that goes, 'The ground gets harder after it rains,'" South Korean President Park Geun-hye said at a dinner after chairing the meeting. In other words, relationships get stronger after a quarrel.

"Through shared effort, I believe trust and co-operation among our three nations can become sounder, just like the earth after it rains," she told Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

The trilateral summit meetings began to address the increasing economic ties between the nations in 2008, though they have addressed a wide array of topics including the environment, disaster management and social security.

Five such meetings were held until the practice was halted, the last in May 2012. China was strongly opposed to resuming the meetings.

Japan-China relations have been icy since the Japanese government nationalised the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture in September 2012 - and the Park administration has been confrontational toward Japan since taking office in 2013, so there has been little appetite for a summit meeting in recent years.

However, relations between Japan and China have improved since Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met last November - the first summit meeting between the nations in about three years.

China chose to resume the trilateral meetings because, as Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said, the Japanese government and leadership showed a desire to improve ties with China and South Korea. In reality, China had its own reasons to resume talks.

The Xi administration's "anti-Japan" campaign for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which aimed to drum up popular support for the regime, reached its peak with a huge military parade in September.

China has faced a sharp economic downturn this year, with gross domestic product growth dipping below 7 per cent for the first time in 6½ years in the July-September quarter. China hopes to bring back Japanese investment, which was down 38.8 per cent in 2014 compared to the previous year.

With Japan-China ties warming, domestic criticism of the South Korean government's diplomatic opposition to Japan has increased because of the lack of notable results. Many South Korean business leaders have started urging the government to improve ties with Japan, joining similar calls being made by the United States.

Nevertheless, China has been successful in driving a wedge between Japan, the United States and South Korea - exemplified by Seoul's decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

At the start of the trilateral summit meeting, Park implicitly called for issues to be settled, including the so-called comfort women - and Li urged Japan to take a constructive approach to issues involving historical perceptions. China and South Korea's "united front" over historical issues still remains strong.

Abe avoids history

"Our three nations have extremely close economic ties. There are enormous possibilities there," Abe said at a joint press conference after the summit meeting, emphasizing the importance of economic co-operation between the countries.

"There are many areas in which we could promote co-operation," Abe said, mentioning the environment, disaster management and youth exchanges.

The Japanese government aims to develop relations with China and South Korea by setting aside historical issues, which the two countries have been fixed on, and using a trilateral framework that emphasizes areas in which the two countries would seek common benefits - like a free trade agreement between the three countries.

South Korea has expressed a desire to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact. The Japanese government hopes it can strengthen bilateral co-operation by serving as a "bridge-builder" between South Korea and TPP member nations.Speech

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