South Korea, China, Japan Vow to Ramp Up Cooperation at a Rare Summit

Leaders from South Korea, China and Japan reaffirmed their goal of a denuclearised Korean peninsula on May 27, during a rare summit at which they also agreed to further deepen trade ties

By Asad Mirza

Foreign Affairs

The recent Seoul summit brought together South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul for the countries’ first trilateral talks in nearly five years, partly due to the pandemic earlier, but also continuing with sour ties. President Yoon Suk Yeol held bilateral talks with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Sunday, and presided over the three-way gathering on Monday.

ads

The absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping effectively kept military, foreign affairs, and security issues off the agenda. However, economics and trade, climate change, cultural exchanges, health and ageing populations, science, and disaster response, were von the agenda according to Yoon’s office.

In a joint statement issued after the talks, the countries used language that has been deployed many times before to reaffirm their commitment to the “denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, adding that peace “serves our common interest and is our common responsibility”.

congress

South Korea’s president says he and the leaders of Japan and China adopted a joint declaration that includes their pledge to work closely together to achieve regional peace and prosperity.

Yoon Suk Yeol made the announcement during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and Chinese Premier Li Qiang, which was held after their talks on Monday.

big bang

The summit involving the three countries was held for the first time in nearly four-and-a-half years.

Yoon told reporters that the foundation of cooperation among the three countries is mutual understanding and trust, and their leaders must meet frequently to communicate with each other.

huges

Yoon said the three leaders agreed to make the trade and investment environment transparent and predictable and to establish a secure supply chain. He said the three countries will also cooperate to tackle environmental and other issues.

The recent Seoul summit brought together South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul for the countries’ first trilateral talks in nearly five years

In a joint news conference after the meeting, Li said China wants to cooperate with South Korea and Japan on economic issues, especially on supply chains and the restart of talks on a three-way free trade deal.

police expo

Yoon said the three leaders agreed to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges, establish safe supply chain networks and work together to tackle shared environmental, health and other issues. Kishida said the three countries share a big responsibility for regional peace and that Japan will chair the next round of the trilateral leaders’ meeting.

While North Korea was not officially on the agenda, hours before the leaders met Pyongyang announced that it would soon, between May 27 and June 3, put another spy satellite into orbit – a move that violates rafts of UN sanctions barring it from tests using ballistic technology.

At a joint press conference, Yoon and Kishida urged Pyongyang to call off the launch, with the South Korean leader saying it would “undermine regional and global peace and stability”. Yoon, on his part said that such a launch is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and the international community must respond firmly to it.

Yoon also called for a “decisive” international response if Kim goes ahead with his fourth such launch – aided by what Seoul claims is Russian technical assistance in exchange for Kim sending Moscow arms for use in Ukraine.

But China, North Korea’s most important ally and economic benefactor, remained notably silent on the issue, with Premier Li not mentioning it during the briefing.

North Korea hit back immediately, a statement by a foreign ministry spokesperson said “to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula today constitutes a grave political provocation”.

China wanted to increase cooperation with South Korea and Japan on economic issues, especially on supply chains and the restart of talks on a three-way free trade deal

Any talk of denuclearisation would “violate the constitutional position of our country as a nuclear weapons state,” said the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

However, the fact that Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing are seeking to ramp up trilateral cooperation and boost economic ties is a good sign for future agreements on more difficult topics like Kim’s nukes.

The three countries announced on Monday that they would “keep discussions for speeding up negotiations for a Trilateral FTA”.

Chinese Premier Li also said they had agreed not to turn “economic and trade issues into political games or security matters, and rejecting protectionism as well as decoupling or the severing of supply chains”, Xinhua reported.

Yoon said that the leaders had “decided to create a transparent and predictable environment for trade and investment, and to establish a safe supply chain”.

After their talks, Yoon, Li and Kishida joined a business summit aimed at boosting trade between the countries, which was also attended by top industry leaders.

Though no participant at the summit expected any big announcements from the meeting, as it was rather optics-oriented, but still the fact that such a summit was held after a long gap signifies the value these three nations attach to the regional cooperation.

Even holding the summit in the current atmosphere of increasing regional rivalries and bilateral cooperation with the US, seems rather well delivered

Though, a rather sore point for Beijing is the closer and increasing cooperation of South Korea and Japan, with the United States in response to China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Yet, the three leaders focussed on economic cooperation more, as they are aware that that is what makes them strong and forging regional ties and work out a resilient supply chain system is the current imperative for their economic prosperity, they correctly focussed on that in a rather sanguine manner.

As far as the absence of any defence or security related is concerned, there was not much expectation from the summit to deliver anything substantial on the issue. This was partly due to the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping form the summit, in whose absence it was difficult for the rest two leaders to broach the topic.

However, even holding the summit in the current atmosphere of increasing regional rivalries and bilateral cooperation with the US, seems rather well delivered.

-The writer is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator.