Hot on the heels of the trilateral summit among the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea last month came a report from Japan’s Kyodo News that the Chinese government has proposed that the leaders of the three countries meet again in Beijing, and has invited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit China this December.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, Abe is also planning to seize the opportunity of the next G20 summit scheduled to be held in Osaka in June 2019 and invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to pay a state visit to Japan.
In our opinion, Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo are suddenly and eagerly seeking closer ties with one another because the recent summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has presented a whole new ball game for them.
The Singapore summit has not only substantially eased tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but also presented new economic opportunities for the three Asian powers.
Pyongyang’s promise to achieve total denuclearization has also significantly reduced the national security threats to Japan and South Korea, and alleviated the border security risks facing Beijing.
Under this political climate of reconciliation and given the huge investment potential of North Korea in the coming days, China, Japan and South Korea have every reason to sit down more frequently and explore strategic cooperation among them.
In fact, politicians and business leaders in the three countries are now aggressively eyeing the juicy market of North Korea.
For instance, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has already proposed that three economic belts be built on eastern and western coastal lines of the Korean Peninsula as well as in the area near the non-military zone.
Moon also proposed that once hostilities across the 38th parallel are officially ended, North Korea could build roads and railways that could extend to China and Russia.
China and Japan, too, are also gearing up for the huge investment opportunities presented by Pyongyang’s bid to reform its economy and open up its market.
Apart from the business opportunities in North Korea, the United States’ escalating protectionist approach to trade may also be another important factor that is drawing China, Japan and South Korea closer to one another.
Despite being long-standing allies of the US, Japan and South Korea are increasingly concerned about the possibility of them becoming victims of Trump’s indiscriminate protectionist trade measures.
Given that concern, Tokyo and Seoul might seek to build a tripartite free trade zone with Beijing as a means to hedge their bets amid Washington’s toughening protectionist stance.
The fact that Abe has been gradually turning from initially a skeptic into a supporter of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative in recent months may serve as an indication that Japan is headed towards that direction.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 19
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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