(Nikkei: November 2, 2015 – p. 2)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and ROK President Park Geun-hye have just held a trilateral summit in Seoul.
Since this is their first summit in three years and six months, they were, naturally, not expected to let bygones be bygones and restore good relations immediately. Still, they were probably able to somehow narrow the gap between them.
Regular trilateral summits started in 2008, with each country taking turns hosting a summit each year. The last one was held in May 2012. Since then, the Japanese government’s nationalization of the Senkaku Islands and such other issues as sovereignty over Takeshima (Dokdo in Korean) or interpretation of history have resulted in the deterioration of Japan-China and Japan-ROK relations, while China and the ROK have also built a close relationship akin to a honeymoon.
In this sense, the key point in the latest summit was how far Japan would be able to close its gap with China and the ROK to build a more balanced trilateral relationship. At this meeting, the leaders of the three countries reaffirmed the importance of cooperation for peace and prosperity in East Asia and agreed to resume regular summit meetings.
Japan will be the summit host next year. Neither Li nor Park has visited Japan since taking office. A trilateral summit may be an opportunity for them to make their first trips here. This will be the first step in normalizing relations with China and the ROK.
On the North Korean nuclear issue, the three leaders agreed to cooperate in prodding North Korea to take concrete denuclearization steps and work toward resuming meaningful Six-Party Talks. In economic issues, special emphasis was given to accelerating negotiations for a Japan-China-ROK free trade agreement (FTA).
China and the ROK already have a bilateral FTA, so they had not been very keen on negotiating for a trilateral FTA. However, the mood seems to have changed since a basic agreement was reached at the TPP talks led by Japan and the U.S.
We hope the Japanese government will persist in efforts to repair ties with China and the ROK by deepening cooperation in security, economic affairs, and other areas of interest to all parties.
In a news conference held after the summit, both Park and Li emphasized the expression “face history squarely,” in an attempt to remind Japan of the history issues. On the other hand, perhaps out of consideration for China, South China Sea, where tension is high between the U.S. and China, and other potentially controversial issues were not included in the trilateral summit’s agenda.
Li said that China wants to “enhance mutual political trust.” If so, candid discussion of each other’s concerns ought to be the shortcut to building genuine trust.