CEAC Commentary

October 28, 2019 

Possibility of Japan-China-Korea

‘Trilateral+X’ Cooperation


The Trilateral Foreign Minister’s Meeting among Japan, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of Korea was held in Gubei Water Town in China on August 21. It was held for the first time in 3 years since the last one was held in August 2016 in Tokyo. The summit level trilateral meeting was held in Tokyo as well in May last year, after two and a half years of intervening blank period, and this year's meeting will be hosted by China in December. These summit or minister level meetings of the three countries had been postponed several times due to political disputes between the two or three of them. Amidst of the tensions between Japan and Korea nowadays, it is noteworthy that the Trilateral Summit Meeting is being planned to be held. The trilateral framework of Japan, China and Korea began as the leaders of the three countries have gathered for the first time for breakfast meeting alongside the ASEAN Plus Three (APT) Summit in 1999. Marking its 20th anniversary this year, it is highly worthy of attention from the perspective of regional cooperation and integration that how should this ‘mature’ trilateral framework be further enhanced.

Among Japan, China and Korea, there are more than 70 trilateral inter-governmental frameworks have been institutionalized ---including 21 minister level meetings, senior officials’ (SOM), and Director-Generals’ (DGM)--- and practical cooperation in fields such as the environment, economy and trade, agriculture, education, nuclear energy, or disaster management were consulted under such frameworks. In the field of the environment, in particular, has shown a remarkable progress. The Tripartite Environment Ministers Meeting (TEMM) has been held every year since 1999, for example. At a glance, the trilateral cooperation has made great progress, though many cooperation among the three countries remain no more than consultation, compared to the actual coordination taken within APT framework, like Chiang Mai Initiative. The cooperation in security mechanism among Japan, China and Korea, too, yet to be built.

Meanwhile, the Joint Statement of the 7th Japan-China-Korea Trilateral Summit, held in Tokyo last May, noted the trilateral cooperation will be sought through a new concept named ‘Trilateral+X.’ At the Trilateral Foreign Minister’s Meeting in August this year adopted the “Concept Paper on ‘Trilateral+X’ Cooperation” which touches upon the possibility of cooperation, especially in the area of economy and poverty reduction, with the three and other contry/ies and fields, based on the win-win principle. Henceforth, the trilateral cooperation is expected to be further enhanced based on this concept. If Japan, China and Korea cooperate to accelerate the negotiation of RCEP based on this principle, for example, it would help boost the negotiation process to be concluded within this year.

Therefore, Japan, China and Korea have a possibility to further enhance the practical and cooperative trilateral relationship through ‘Trilateral+X.’ What is important to do in each country to achieve that is to share the common vision of the future of the region. In East Asia, there is a vision to establish the East Asia Community, which is mentioned as the future aim at APT or East Asia Summit (EAS). Among Japan, China and Korea, too, the trilateral cooperation is recognized that it will play an active role for the East Asia Community, in the agreements such as “Trilateral Cooperation VISION 2020” agreed at the Trilateral Summit in 2010. Hence it is essential for Japan, China and Korea to further promote a functional cooperation by aiming the East Asia Community, with the new framework of ‘Trilateral+X’ in mind.

(This is an English translation of the article written by KIKUCHI Yona, Director / Senior Research Fellow, The Japan Forum on International Relations, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Hyakka-Somei (Hundred Ducks in Full Voice)” of CEAC on October 3, 2019.)