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Editorial: Despite tussles, Japan, S. Korea, China must learn to cooperate

Although the current mood among Japan, China and South Korea is not totally positive, the foreign ministers of the three countries held talks in Tokyo on Aug. 24.

 

Such meetings among the top diplomats of the three countries should play a vital role in stability and development in Northeast Asia.

 

We welcome the fact that this important meeting took place again this year following the one held last year.

 

Disputes tend to immediately strain relations between two countries. But the two countries locked in a diplomatic row may feel comfortable attending a meeting involving a third nation.

 

This smart formula should be used effectively for three-way relationships. A meeting among the leaders of the three countries should also be held by the end of the year.

 

Unlike last year, when perceptions about history took center stage, tensions this year have grown over national security issues.

 

One security issue straining relations between Japan and China are the disputes over islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

 

The number of Chinese government vessels entering areas around the Senkaku Islands has increased sharply this month. China has continued sending ships into Japanese waters around the islands despite Tokyo’s repeated protests.

 

China’s actions run counter to a bilateral agreement struck in 2014 to “prevent the deterioration of the situation through dialogue.”

 

Another security issue creating tensions in the region lies between China and South Korea.

 

In response to the decision by Seoul and U.S. forces stationed in South Korea to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the country, China has taken steps that appear to be reprisals, such as canceling some cultural exchange events.

 

Behind all these issues are internal political factors that make it hard for the countries to make concessions. The tussles also reflect the intensifying tug of war between the United States and China in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

The factors creating friction among Japan, China and South Korea will continue rocking their diplomatic relations. That makes it all the more important for the three countries to hold regular meetings of their leaders and ministers.

 

Despite their disagreements over certain issues, the three countries face a raft of challenges they should tackle in a cooperative manner.

 

The biggest challenge is the security threat posed by North Korea. The country fired a missile from a submarine on Aug. 24 that reached Japan’s air defense identification zone.

 

In a natural response to the missile firing, the foreign ministers of the three countries agreed to demand that North Korea stop such provocative acts.

 

In particular, China, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with close ties to North Korea, should use its influence to put pressure on Pyongyang.

 

It is also a pity there has been little progress in creating a framework for economic cooperation among the three countries, such as a trilateral free trade agreement.

 

Given the combined economic weight of the three countries, which together account for 20 percent of the world economy, they should do more to find a formula to expand their economic cooperation.

 

Earlier this month, a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel rescued crew members of a Chinese fishing boat that sank after a collision with a Greek freighter off the Senkaku Islands.

 

The episode drove home the reality that situations requiring cooperation from the two neighboring countries facing the same sea can arise at any time.

 

The three countries are bound by the undeniable need for cooperation over not only rescue operations at sea but also environmental problems and disaster responses.

 

They should continue steady efforts to expand and enhance their cooperative relationships.

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