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Trilateral cooperation: Ushering in a new era for peace and cooperation in Northeast Asia - 2016.04.28
Spring is coming and flowers are in full blossom. In this beautiful season, distinguished guests from China, Japan and Korea are gathering at Beijing to celebrate an important event—the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation (IFTC). Organized by Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, the IFTC is a significant platform for sharing constructive proposals for developing future-oriented trilateral partnership among China, Japan and Korea and raising public awareness of the trilateral cooperation.
Development of Trilateral Cooperation
Since inaugurated in 1999, the trilateral cooperation has witnessed prolific growth in wide spectrums. Besides Summit, the three countries have established 20 ministerial-level consultative mechanisms. Economically, the trade volume of the three countries exceeded 6900 billion USD in 2014, accounting for nearly 20% of world trade volume. CJK FTA and RCEP negotiations are ongoing and immense potentials are expected to expedite regional economic integration. People-to-people exchange is deepening. The number of visitors traveling among the three countries hit 20 million for first time in 2014. Over 600 cities have forged sister-city relationship. "East Asian Cultural Cities" has become a showcase of splendid culture of the three countries. Students participating in the "CAMPUS Asia" program have shown their global competitiveness equipped by multi-lingual proficiency and thorough knowledge of East Asian cultures and values.
Immense potentials are expected to be tapped in the areas of education, sport and think-tank exchange. The 1st Education Ministers Meeting held early this year declared to expand education exchange by developing "CAMPUS Asia" into a full-fledged project. As PyeongChang, Tokyo and Beijing will consecutively host Olympics/Winter Olympics in the coming six years, there will be numerous opportunities for sports exchange among the three countries. The establishment of Trilateral Cooperation Think-tank Network will provide strong intellectual support to the three countries' opinions.
Revitalizing the Trilateral Summit also opens new doors for trilateral cooperation in economic-related sectors. As enumerated in the Joint Declaration of the Summit, the three countries could boost each country's economy by synergizing similar national policies--China's mass entrepreneurship and innovation policy, ROK's creative economy policy and Japan's revitalizing policies, through trilateral economic cooperation. The three countries could also explore new cooperative areas such as improvement of Supply Chain Connectivity, cooperation on production capacity in the fourth-party-market, and cooperation in new industries of high-added value in bio and healthcare and environment sector, as well as e-commerce, software and cultural content.
It must be admitted that unrest and conflicts in the region do go against the fundamental interests of the three countries and is the least we want to see. In fact, the three leaders have made clear consensus in the Joint Declaration in the 6th Trilateral Summit that, "maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as in Northeast Asia is in common interest of the three countries". At this critical juncture, the three countries should uphold their joint commitment, cherish the hard-earned fruits in trilateral cooperation despite fluid situations in the region, and walk toward one direction to continue to develop trilateral cooperation unwaveringly. We should make joint effort to reduce suspicion and enhance mutual trust among concerned parties, and work cooperatively to settle the regional problems in peaceful manner. To this end, the three governments should play constructive role in continuing existing political and security dialogues as well as implementing new cooperative initiatives such as Trilateral Law-Enforcement Consultation, Non-Proliferation Consultation and promoting high-level dialogue among militaries of the three countries.
What is it look like if the youths of China, Japan and the ROK get together? Those multilinguals freely switch back and forth between English and CJK languages, while expressing their frank opinions on matters ranging from history to youth problems. And they soon create bonds with one another through mutual understanding.
As the Secretary-General of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS), an international organization established by the governments of China, Japan and the ROK, I enjoyed many chances to meet students of the three countries by diverse youth exchanges including ‘Young Ambassador Program’. Every time I am greatly amazed at the open-minded dialogues among the young generation, which go beyond the sense of distance and bias of the old generation. This made me to realize the development of the trilateral relationship over the last 10 years by revisiting the ROK once again after my duty at the Chinese Embassy in the ROK 2006.
How could our young generation make such an eye-opening progress? It was all possible thanks to the continued trilateral cooperation in the area of education and youth exchange. Three countries under the influence of Confucian culture have put emphasis on the value of learning, with high passion for education. They also hold the attitude for mutual learning as indicated by a Confucius quote, “Walking among three people, I find my teacher among them”. At the 6th Summit of the last year held after three and a half years hiatus, three leaders also echoed the importance of education in mutual understanding and common development of the three countries, and agreed to establish the Trilateral Education Ministers’ Meeting to expand the trilateral educational cooperation.
At last, the 1st Meeting will be held in Seoul this weekend. It is the first step to institutionalize educational cooperation at the governmental level. The three Ministers will discuss such agendas as the measures to expand the educational cooperation to foster creative talent, and to create East Asian education community by the expansion of the CAMPUS Asia Project.
Above all, I hold high expectation to the CAMPUS Asia Project which develops into the full-fledged project this year. It is a mutual exchange program among university students of the three countries, similar to EU’s Erasmus Program. Over the last 4 years, 10 consortia among 26 universities and around 2,000 students have participated in the project. The participating students I have met were competitive talents with understandings on the societies and cultures of the three countries and high language proficiency cultivated by their direct experience of the three countries. This all led me to be strongly convinced of the importance of the CAMPUS Asia Project.
The three countries occupy 21.4% of the world population, 21% of GDP, and 18.3% of trade volume. Cooperation among the three countries surely brings about a huge synergy effect. The three governments have pursued trilateral cooperation from 1999, running 20 ministerial meetings including Trilateral Education Ministers’ Meeting and 50 governmental mechanisms.
The three neighbors who share many commonalities are facing increasing necessity for cooperation. To facilitate the large potential of trilateral cooperation, our young generation’s role is crucial. The accumulation of mutual understanding and trust through continuous exchange serves as a gateway to the nurturing of core human resources who fully respect three countries’ commonalities and diversities, and envision the common future. As “Education is far-sighted national policy” (教育百年大計) - the common old saying among the three countries - suggests, I expect the 1st Trilateral Education Ministers’ Meeting be a foundation for the 100-year plan for the trilateral educational cooperation that expands the scope and scale of the youth exchanges. Despite it being the most recently established, I hope the Meeting to be a successful platform that leads the development of future-oriented trilateral relations.
The time flies. Time is merciless and wait for no one. I am now already completing my 2-year term of office as Secretary-General of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat. I feel sad facing this reality but at the same time I breathe a sigh of relief to realize that I am finishing my task without any serious hitch or scandals.
Looking back the past two years, I have to admit, we have been at the bottom of the inevitable up-and-down movement of the trilateral cooperation. We worked very hard being mindful that the role of TCS is all the more important during such difficult period. TCS made the utmost efforts to prevent the trilateral cooperation from being marginalized or forgotten. It is my belief that we successfully fulfilled this duty and in some cases we even uplifted a little bit the level of cooperation.
Toward the end of last year we started detecting the upward trend in the trilateral relationship and such trend became evident to everybody when we saw the Trilateral Foreign Ministers Meeting held in Seoul last March for the first time since almost three years ago. Now it is getting more and more likely that the Trilateral Summit can be held in the very near future.
Seeing this positive development and high hope ahead of us it is right time for us to consider how to strengthen the function of TCS so that TCS can not only play the role to sustain the Trilateral Cooperation but also take a leadership in promoting the Trilateral Cooperation. The structure and function of TCS should be strengthen so that TCS can not only follow the development and make comments but also extend actual helping hand for the three governments in their implementation of the projects.
On the quantitative side the number of TCS staff should be further increased and the office space should also be increased accordingly. On the qualitative side the term of office of the Board of TCS should be extended from the current two years to at least three years. More opportunities should be given to TCS to meet three governments’ officials to discuss about issues related to TCS management. The staff and office management rules and regulations should be updated to make them more conducive to drawing maximum capacity of each and every one of the staff. Some mechanism should be introduced to make more funding available for TCS activities by, for example, establishing a voluntary trust fund. I hope these issues will be considered at the next Trilateral Summit meeting.
In the area of substantial cooperation I want to draw your attention to the fact that the lack of mutual trust among the three countries is hindering even seemingly non-political cooperative agendas. Therefore more confidence building measures should be discussed and be taken not only bilaterally but also trilaterally in order to overcome this difficulty. As is well-known the main stumbling block which hinders the promotion of mutual trust is the history issue. The three countries’ historians and other knowledgeable people should get together and propose some concrete measures to promote understanding on each other’s way of thinking and eliminate misunderstanding among the three countries’ ordinary people.
TCS can play a positive role in these efforts. The people-to-people contact among the three countries, particularly among young people, should be further strengthened. The CAMPUS Asia program, TCS initiated programs like journalist exchanges and Young Ambassador Program, and promotion of 808 commonly used Chinese characters are some of such examples. The trilateral parliamentarians’ exchanges is not yet realized but is highly desirable. In sports and cultural exchanges I want to emphasize the usefulness of classical music. Nowadays classical music is the common enjoyment of all three countries and there is no obstacle playing classical music together.
In the economic and sustainable development field no single cooperation sector is less important than others. TCS should do the best to support all of them. But on this opportunity I would like to refer to two issues. First, because the three countries will be hosting Olympic Games successively every two years starting 2018 the three countries should cooperate to tap economic benefit from this great opportunity. The long overdue sports ministers meeting should be started as soon as possible. Secondly looking toward the establishment of East Asia Community the three countries should discuss more about how the three countries can work together to cooperate with ASEAN countries. Competition is good if it goes hand in hand with cooperation.
I hope all these ideas will also be considered in the process of preparation for the Summit.
Having said all these, I want to give a word of caution which may sounds a little contradictory to what I have just said. TCS should not be too greedy! If TCS gets bogged down into this big ocean of trilateral activities it will lose its identity. One who tries to catch two rabbits will lose both. In my opinion TCS should basically be the watchdog of Trilateral Cooperation. TCS should try to grasp Trilateral Cooperation’s developments, accumulates data, find defects, submit constructive proposals to improve the situation, etc. No other organization can play this role better than TCS.
I would like to thank all of you once again for your invaluable support. Allow me also to extend my heartfelt thanks to all the staff of TCS for their hard work and dedicated contributions.
I feel sorry for the new Board who will probably have to work very hard from the beginning for the preparation of the Summit but I am sure it will be a very rewarding work. I trust that the new Board can cope with various challenges very well, probably much better than the outgoing Board under the able leadership of Ambassador Yang Houlan. I wish them well for their future endeavors and would like to seek your continued support for them. So long and sayonara.
I am so happy and relieved to see the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation (IFTC) 2015 successfully held in Tokyo on the 3rd of this month. In fact these past couple of weeks turn out to be the best period in my career as Secretary General of TCS. The Trilateral Foreign Ministers Meeting was held in Seoul last month after the interval of almost three years. The three Parties agreed to develop further the trilateral cooperation process and also agreed on some new projects. When we think of the period when even meeting of the three Ministers were difficult, the agreement they reached on this occasion as described in the Joint Press Release was really a remarkable step forward.
Immediately following this epoch-making meeting, IFTC 2015 was held in Tokyo. This Forum was significant in two respects. Firstly, the level of participation from the three countries as keynote speakers was very high: former Prime Ministers of Japan and Korea and former Foreign Minister of China. Instead of just criticizing each other, they proposed the way to reconcile and cooperate among the three countries on various issues of common concern and interest. Secondly, this Forum was held outside Korea for the first time. It is not so easy to arrange this kind of big conference at a place where we do not have our ba
In concluding, I would like to extend my heart-felt gratitude to all the supporters of this event including sponsoring news media companies, the governmental ministries and agencies, the business associations, keynote speakers, moderators and panelists, and last but not least the audience who attentively listened to the discussion, for their invaluable contribution to make this event a great success.
A Happy New Year!
To me this is the last year to serve as the SG of the TCS. I hope I can leave some legacy at the end of my term which will be recorded in the history of the TCS.
As this is the beginning of a New Year, let me talk about some basic issue this time, which is “What the role of the TCS is.” As I myself sometimes wonder what we are doing, it is quite natural that many outsiders wonder what it is that the TCS is doing. I guess the name of our office is a bit misleading. When you say “Secretariat”, it has to have some person or organ to serve. In the case of international organizations, it is usually some consultative mechanism which regularly meets at headquarter. The secretariat provide various services in order to make these meetings fruitful.
As for the Trilateral Cooperation, the meetings take place usually on the rotational basis in one of the three countries, and the secretariat role is mostly played by the host government. The role of the TCS is mainly limited to observing the meeting and writing a summary record in English. ASEAN has the similar mechanism to rotate the meetings, but at headquarter in Jakarta, the regular meetings of the member countries at the Ambassador level are also held to deal with day-to-day business. And the ASEAN secretariat serves these meetings.
As I said, the role TCS is now playing in category No.1 above is still limited. Yet gradually, step-by-step, existence of the TCS is recognized by various consultative mechanisms and its role expanding. What the TCS is mainly doing now is category No.2 activities. In that sense, some might argue that it would reflect the reality better if our office is called Trilateral Cooperation Promotion Center. In fact, it is highly desirable that a permanent dialogue mechanism be established among the three governments for TCS to actively commit itself to its duty as a secretariat that enhances the Trilateral Cooperation. It is the TCS’ role to serve this mechanism where continuous discussions are taken place among the three governments in order to reach agreement on various joint projects.
My new year’s resolution for 2015 is to make my best efforts to attain this goal.