By Hannan Hussain
On November 26, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Busan for the 10th trilateral foreign ministers' meeting. As the first face-to-face exchange among top diplomats since 2019, the meeting was a significant step towards deepening neighborhood diplomacy and preparing the ground for a trilateral leaders' summit in the near future.
"China will continue to adhere to the basic policy of its neighborhood diplomacy, which is to pursue friendship and partnership with its neighbors and work with the ROK and Japan to push the cooperation among the three countries back on the right track," said Wang.
Creating conditions for a leaders' summit is a massive leap for neighborly diplomacy. After all, the last meeting in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, provided a strategic vision to address profound shifts in the international community. Countries converged on pathways to accelerate three-way trade, and champion greater stability in the global economy.
To ensure substantive preparations in the lead-up to the next summit, it is imperative for all sides to rule out external interference to their relations and shore up mutual trust. Accommodation of each other's legitimate development and security interests has played an important role in deepening strategic common ground through past trilateral convening. Optimism runs high as Seoul and Beijing commit to promoting their strategic cooperative partnership, and Tokyo agrees to deepen strategic and security dialogues in the near term.
Interestingly, the meeting reflected positively on efforts to expand economic and trade imperatives on multiple levels. Proposals such as the resumption of the China-Japan-ROK free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations provide new opportunities to revive trade diplomacy momentum and increase positive contributions to regional and global economic recovery. All three neighbors identify as highly complementary and interconnected economies, collectively representing about 25 percent of the global gross domestic product.
Their impressive track record of three-way economic cooperation puts future engagement prospects into perspective. In the past 20 years alone, all three countries have established dozens of dialogue mechanisms to undergird trilateral consultations. Moreover, their trade volume has ballooned from $130 billion in 1999 to over $720 billion in 2018. As evidence of staunch multilateral trade support, they continue to put their weight behind the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Given their representative share of the global economy, the trilateral foreign ministers' exchange revealed new growth points for all partners to drive "future-oriented cooperation" forward across trade, economy and cutting-edge industrial fields. That includes prospects of strengthening collaborations across big data, blockchain and artificial intelligence, and a concerted effort to work closely to stabilize industrial and supply chains.
"[It is] important to further institutionalize trilateral cooperation so that it will develop into a stable and sustainable system," said South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, according to a statement from his ministry.
The onus to protect peace and stability in conflict hotspots couldn't be clearer. "We must act as a 'stabilizer' in maintaining regional peace and security, practice the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, and stick to resolving differences and disputes through dialogue and consultation through peaceful means," said Wang.
Beijing is correct to emphasize principled opposition to camp politics as it risks dividing regional peacebuilding efforts. The trilateral foreign ministers' meeting underscores consultative diplomacy to address tensions in regions including the Korean Peninsula, as well as hotspots beyond Northeast Asia.
This is important because all sides have agreed to set a "future direction of concrete cooperation" where peace and security are identified as one of six stated priorities. Correct perception of each other's peacebuilding role can also strengthen strategic common ground between ROK, Japan and China, and score home the sentiment that trilateral cooperation has "robust demand" and "huge potential" in their neighborhood.
Taken together, the 10th trilateral foreign ministers' meeting offers all-important insights to elevate economic and strategic engagement, while underlining the path to a landmark leaders' summit.
Hannan Hussain, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a foreign affairs commentator, author, and assistant research associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.