On the morning of May 9th, the heads of government of China, Japan and South Korea gathered in Tokyo and regained the momentum of cooperation between the three countries two and a half years later. They exchanged views on cooperation, regional and international issues. While emphasizing the important responsibilities of the three nations for regional development, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pointed out that the three sides should accelerate the negotiation on the China-Japan-South Korea FTA and conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) as soon as possible, which attracted great attention.
China, Japan and South Korea will Work Together to Fight Trade protection
The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea agreed that they will support free trade and open markets, promote regional development, and actively push forward the negotiation on the China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the RCEP.
Huang Dahui, Vice President of the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, said in an interview with the Information Network that the protectionism of the United States has unintentionally created an external force for promoting China-Japan-South Korea cooperation. The current consensus among the three parties is that they are the beneficiaries of globalization and the multilateral free trade system. Moreover, they are also important defenders of this system. The cooperation of the three countries will help to maintain the global multilateral free trade system. By strengthening economic cooperation, they will be able to improve their political relations and make a contribution to regional peace and stability.
As early as 2002, China, Japan and South Korea agreed to start research on the establishment of a free trade zone in China, Japan and Korea. In November 2012, they started the negotiations on the China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Zone, but then the situation in Northeast Asia became complicated and the negotiations proceeded intermittently. China, Japan and South Korea are also major players in the negotiations on the RCEP, which has been initiated in recent years.
According to Wei Jianguo, Vice Chairman of CCIEE and former Vice Minister of Commerce, China, Japan and South Koreas accelerate the negotiation on the free trade area is also a significant countermeasure to the unilateralism and trade protectionism adopted by the United States. In response to the continuous trade protectionism implemented by the United States, China, Japan and South Korea jointly raise the banner of free trade, this is the biggest highlight and will form a new global rejection to unilateralism and trade protectionism and affect the attitude of the EU, Australia and New Zealand towards trade.
The RCEP was proposed and led by ASEAN, countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India were invited to participate in the “10+6”. This is the largest FTA negotiation in East Asia as it has the most members and the biggest impact. If a consensus can be reached, the total GDP of this FTA will be approximately US$21 trillion and accounts for about 30% of the total world trade, which will greatly promote regional cooperation and East Asia integration.
The China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Zone
China, Japan and South Korea are all located in Northeast Asia, and their total population accounts for one-fifth of the world’s total. The total economic output accounts for 25% of the world’s total and 90% of East Asia. According to the statistics of the International Monetary Fund, the total import and export of the three countries in 2017 accounted for nearly 20% of the global trade volume, which plays a decisive role in the global trade. The three countries are geographically close, culturally connected, and their industrial structures are complementary. However, the economic connectivity is insufficient and there is lack of economic integration.
Some scholars once said that territorial disputes and historical problems have not just plagued the relations among China, Japan and South Korea, but also constrained the process of economic integration among the three countries.
Regarding the future cooperation of the three countries, Huang Dahui mentioned that lack of political and strategic mutual trust is an obstacle to the cooperation between China, Japan and South Korea, apart from the security situation in the Korean Peninsula. Economic cooperation needs regional peace and stability. With the further advancement of economic cooperation among the three countries, all the three parties need to see a big picture, maintain a good regional relation, properly manage their differences and enhance mutual trust in political strategy.
As the second, third and sixth largest economy in the world, it is essential for China, Japan and South Korea to jointly advance the future-oriented cooperation, which is vital for regional development.
Wei Jianguo said that China, Japan and South Korea have a key role to play in the RCEP. If the three countries can reach an agreement as soon as possible on the establishment of the China-Japan-Korea Free Trade Zone, it will facilitate the entire negotiation on RCEP and further awaken those countries that still have illusions about the United States, especially those countries that hope the United States will return to the TPP. These countries will begin to realize that the United States will not bring benefits to free trade and the RCEP is the only global multilateral agreement framework, on which a consensus can be reached quickly. Moreover, India, an important member of the RCEP, will see the market prospects under the RCEP framework through the progress made in the China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Zone.
Wei Jianguo believes that an agreement on the RCEP can be expected by the end of this year or early next year. The establishment of the China-Japan-South Korea Free Trade Area will bring new hope to global free trade.