The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 15, 2012)
Japan, China, South Korea cooperation promising
It is hoped that broad cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea will result in substantial progress on such key issues as the formation of a free trade zone and North Korea's nuclear development program.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda agreed with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in their summit meeting in Beijing to launch negotiations on a three-way free trade agreement by the end of this year.
The three countries signed a three-party investment accord, which specifies the protection of intellectual property rights and other issues, a prerequisite for the envisaged FTA.
Because South Korea initially indicated its priority was on concluding an FTA with China, it was considered uncertain whether the three countries would be able to agree on starting negotiations for the three-way accord. Given this background, we welcome the latest agreement among the three leaders.
It will be very significant if the three countries--which together account for about 20 percent of the global gross domestic product--form a free trade zone. In addition, it is vital for Japan's growth strategy to increase its trade with China and South Korea, countries that are rapidly boosting economic activities.
Japan still stuck at home
China became positive about forming a three-party FTA partly because Japan began full-fledged moves toward participating in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership framework, the establishment of which the United States, Australia and seven other countries are now negotiating.
Yet, Japan is still unable to announce its participation in the TPP negotiations due to delayed coordination of different opinions at home. The later our country participates in the negotiations, the less room there will be for it to become involved in setting the rules of international trade within the framework.
In addition to taking part in the U.S.-led TPP negotiations as soon as possible, the government must proactively promote reforms and strengthen competitiveness of the domestic farming sector. We believe such efforts would favorably affect the establishment of an FTA between Japan, China and South Korea.
The three leaders also agreed to beef up cooperation over North Korea's nuclear activities. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said it is important to prevent the country from resorting to further provocative actions, including a new nuclear test.
To this end, it will be vital that Japan, the United States and South Korea, which are taking a hard line with North Korea, and China, which takes a conciliatory approach to the country, keep in step with each other.
Sanctions cranked up
North Korea launched a ballistic missile in mid-April. In response, the U.N. Security Council approved additional sanctions against the country on May 2, under which three more organizations related to Pyongyang, including a North Korean trading firm, were added to the list of entities subject to asset freezes their assets by U.N. members.
Though Japan, the United States, South Korea and others proposed adding about 40 organizations to the asset freeze list, the number was reduced to three due to China's objection.
We regret to say that the latest sanctions are insufficient as a penalty against North Korea, which neglected calls from the international community not to go ahead with the ballistic missile launch.
"This is the time to adopt more effective measures," President Lee said. To prevent a nuclear test by North Korea, it is important to step up pressure on Pyongyang to exercise self-restraint.
As a country that has influence on North Korea through its food and energy assistance, China has a great responsibility and role to play in this respect.
China has so far maintained the stance of not provoking North Korea by any means. A change in Beijing's position would make cooperation between Japan, China and South Korea even more substantial.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2012)