The foreign ministers of Japan, China and South Korea met in Tokyo. Tokyo hosted the trilateral ministerial talks for the first time in five years. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Japan for the first time since he assumed the post. Various poins of contention linger among the three nations, but they sat at the same table for dialogue. The move should be welcomed.
One issue that makes trilateral cooperation essential is North Korea. On the morning of August 24, the North launched a ballistic missile from a submarine. The three foreign ministers referred to this, but their stances varied.
South Korea decided to deploy a U.S. thermal high altitude area defense (THAAD) program. In response, China has been recently acting in a way that takes the side of Pyongyang. China should step up pressure on the North to halt its nuclear and missile development programs rather than getting upset over Seoul’s decision.
It is noteworthy that Japan, China and South Korea have achieved some progress in cooperating in areas such as disaster prevention, environment challenges, and counterterrorism. With the outlook for the global economy becoming uncertain, further trilateral cooperation becomes essential to ensure economic stability. Plans are underway for holding summit talks between the leaders of the three countries in Japan by the end of the year. They are expected to produce more concrete results.
To deepen trilateral cooperation, the Japan-China relationship, Japan-South Korea relationship, and China-South Korea relationship must be strengthened. Among the three nations, there are many contentious issues between Japan and China, including tensions over the East China Sea and the South China Sea. In early August, Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats made incursions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands and contiguous water in droves. The Japanese government repeatedly protested.
During his meeting with Wang, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida proposed holding a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit gathering to be held in early September. Shotaro Yachi, secretary general of the National Security Secretariat, will soon visit China to lay the foundation for the summit. The two leaders are encouraged to meet and chart a path to improve bilateral ties.
Japan and China should also step up efforts to launch a “Japan-China Maritime and Air Communication Mechanism” between the two countries’ defense authorities to avoid unintended conflicts. It is a good sign that Wang is showing a positive stance. The two countries should reach a final agreement as soon as possible.
A thaw in the Japan-South Korea relationship is becoming visible, following the agreement Tokyo and Seoul reached over the comfort women issue at the end of last year. They must firmly and steadily move advance this rapprochement and create momentum to achieve tangible security cooperation. Japan and South Korea should work together with the U.S. and other Asian countries and urge China to comply with the international law on the South China Sea issue.
Japan, China and South Korea represent Asia. Regional and global stability is secured through their close cooperation. They should work hard to realize a productive trilateral summit by the end of the year.