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Joint think tank could explore common interests

July 17, 2006

Japan, China and South Korea should establish a think tank to study common interests among the three countries and seek better relations between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea, the panelists at the session on economic integration of East Asia proposed.

The panelists were: Zhao Jinping, deputy director of research department of foreign economic relations at Development Research Center of the State Council of China; Han Seung-soo, former South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade; Richard Baldwin, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland; and Osamu Watanabe, chairman and CEO of Japan External Trade Organization. Watanabe moderated the discussion.

Zhao: Cooperation between China and ASEAN has entered a new stage, with China having become the first non-ASEAN country to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. China has concluded or is negotiating 10 free trade agreements with 28 countries.

Han: I'm rather pessimistic about whether East Asian countries can achieve economic integration. I think now is the time to reconsider whether ASEAN can really play a central role in the drive. Probably we should create a different framework for the economic integration of East Asia. Influential countries like South Korea, China and Japan should play more active parts.

Watanabe: While the framework of ASEAN+3 has been steadily taking hold, in contrast cooperation among Japan, China and South Korea has remained stalled.

Han: South Korea, China and Japan require idealistic politicians who are willing to tackle the formidable task of solving political feuds between Japan and China or South Korea. If the three countries can join forces in envisioning the future of East Asia, the region could easily attain its goals.

Zhao: Any framework for regional cooperation, whether it is an East Asian Community or FTAs, cannot be realized without the participation of the three countries. China wants to consider a Sino-Japan FTA in the context of trilateral relations among China, Japan and South Korea. We believe that will help improve Sino-Japan ties. China has consistently been supportive of a trilateral FTA.

Watanabe: I think it might be a good idea to jointly create an Asian version of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which would discuss problems with member countries and make proposals to them.

Baldwin: The Asian OECD is a great idea. There is no doubt that there is a lack of understanding in the region of the region. For China, South Korea and Japan, the best (thing to do) is to keep talking. And in the meantime, organize a better management of the regional trade.

If the trade arrangement (in Asia) went wrong for whatever reason and started to tumble out of control, who would call the meeting to sit everybody down together? I think now the fact that it is not clear who would do that leaves to a fragility which could relatively easily be avoided if there were a committee of the ASEAN+3.

Han: On top of that, what about forming a transnational think tank which would pursue interests common in the three countries?

Zhao: It is necessary to create an effective mechanism for dialog to push forward regional cooperation. In the case of East Asia, however, it is important to utilize existing frameworks effectively.

(The Nikkei Weekly July 17 Issue)

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.