Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Republic of Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reached not only a milestone but a new starting point for the tripartite cooperation as the second summit meeting was held here on Saturday.

Remarkable Progress

In November, 1999, the first China-RoK-Japan tripartite summit was held in the form of an “informal breakfast” on the sideline of a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus the three states (10+3).

“The leaders of the three neighbouring states, for the very first time in the last millennia, sat down around one table,” said Jin Xide, a researcher with China’s top think-tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Till 2009, there have been several annual trilateral summit meetings within the 10+3 framework and the first China-RoK-Japan summit out of the regime was held last December in Japan.

In the last one decade, the three states have focused on 11 major cooperation fields such as economy and trade, information technology and environmental protection, and established 15 dialogue mechanisms at ministerial level.

Last year, trade among the three leading Asian economies, which now accounts for 17 per cent of the world economy and 90 per cent in East Asia, has surged to $500 billion, mostly thanks to China’s soaring economy and growing imports from ROK and Japan.

In political aspect, the three states maintained frequent high-level contact and enhanced mutual trust; in economic aspect, they have grown into one another’s major trade partners; in social and cultural aspects, the people-to-people exchanges were colourful and fruitful, Mr. Wen told his colleagues during the two-hour summit.

“We are close neighbours and major states in Asia and to boost cooperation among us will not only conform with our respective interests, but will also be conducive for Asia and the world at large,” said Mr. Wen.

Joint Hands Amid Crisis

Along with booming trade figures, the three economies, mostly driven by exports, were facing the similar challenge: the global financial crisis.

“We must take it as a primary task to tackle the global financial crisis and strive for economic recovery,” said Mr. Wen. The remarks were echoed by Mr. Lee and Mr. Hatoyama, who both voiced concerns on the so-called step-out policy.

“Japan and RoK are still facing grave economic situation and we agreed on Premier Wen’s point of view that is the step-out policy of large-scale economic stimulation plans is still too early to consider,” said Mr. Hatoyama at a joint press conference after the summit.

To fully play their economic advantages and help one another in the context of the crisis, the three states voiced objection to trade protectionism in any form and pledged to preserve a fair, free and open global trade and investment system.

“We are determined to seek an ambitious and balanced conclusion to the Doha Development Round in 2010...based on the progress already made,” said a joint statement issued after the summit, referring to the world trade talks which are behind schedule.

The leaders also urged for a prompt study on a China-Japan-RoK free trade agreement, and for an early signing of trilateral investment agreement.

The FTA, which was initiated by then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in 2002, will lift the economic growth by 2.9, 0.5 and 3.1 percentage points in China, Japan and the RoK respectively, said Wang Shaopu, a Shanghai-based researcher focusing on Asian-Pacific region politics and economy.

The three states also pledged to make full use of existing fora, including the ASEAN+3, East Asia Summit, APEC and the Group of 20, to “continuously inject fresh vitality into the recovery and stable development” of Asian and world economy.

“We cannot work along to cope with the financial crisis and we must work together,” said Mr. Lee at the joint press conference.

Relaunching nuclear talks

Five days ahead of the summit, Mr. Wen made an eye-catching visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the first by a Chinese Premier in 18 years.

“During my stay there, I met with DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong Il for several times and in a total of 10 hours, including the longest conversation which lasted for four hours,” Mr. Wen told Mr. Lee and Mr. Hatoyama.

The DPRK had “showed no opposition to the [six-party] talks and expressed willingness to tackle the issue through bilateral and multilateral dialogue,” said Mr. Wen.

The DPRK announced its withdrawal from the talks, which also involves China, the United States, RoK, Russia and Japan, after the U.N. Security Council adopted a presidential statement that denounced DPRK’s April 5 rocket launch.

The relaunch of the six-party talks on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, which has been stalled since last December, opened up new opportunities, but such opportunities could be “fleeting”. “We should seize the opportunities and make good use of them. If we missed the chance, it would cost us more efforts in the future,” said the Chinese Premier.

“The key to the issue is to take action,” he said. Mr. Wen also said his “most important impression” during the visit is that DPRK hoped to improve ties with the United States, as well as with Japan and the ROK.

China has always welcomed all parties to increase understanding and trust through bilateral dialogue. “Hence, we support DPRK and the United States to hold serious and constructive dialogue, and also support DPRK-Japan, DPRK-RoK to enhance contact and improve ties,” said Mr. Wen.

China provided assistance and aid to the DPRK to develop economy and improve people’s life, which is in line with the spirit of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, he acknowledged.

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