Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (center) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pose for photographers prior to their summit in Tokyo on Wednesday. Photo: AP
The trilateral summit between China, Japan and South Korea held in Tokyo on Wednesday has raised hopes that regional free trade blocs will emerge and benefit all participants in the face of undesirable US protectionist trade policies.
During the trilateral meeting, China encouraged the other countries to boost economic cooperation and trade and pushed for negotiations on a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
Experts said economic integration among the three major economies of Northeast Asia will benefit the region, following the US' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in Tokyo that China, Japan and South Korea should accelerate their negotiations for a trilateral FTA and pass the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at an early date to promote the building of an East Asian Economic Community, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The trilateral meeting will significantly cement the three countries' trade and economic ties, Chen Zilei, director of the Research Center for Japanese Economics at Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"Leaders of the three nations reached a consensus on free trade, after reducing trilateral differences which were apparent at previous talks. With this foundation, a follow-up dialogue on an FTA is expected to advance more quickly and in an orderly and effective manner," Chen said.
During the meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Tokyo on Wednesday, Li proposed the three economies to jointly open markets under a new cooperation mode he called "China-Japan-South Korea+X."
China, Japan and South Korea have all benefited from free trade in their respective development and are all advocates of free trade, Li noted.
The China-Japan-South Korea FTA which was first proposed in 2002 aims at reducing tariffs and broadening market access among the three countries. The 13th round of negotiations was held in Seoul on March 23.
The three countries still have differences in many areas, including historic issues and sovereignty disputes, which they will need to resolve if they are to advance economic integration, Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China's School of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
An economic stimulus
Achieving progress on an FTA could be a stimulus to the passage of the RCEP and further economic integration of the economies of northeast Asia, Chen noted. "The withdrawal of the US from TPP has disappointed TPP's Asian member countries, so any headway made in the three-way treaty will reassure and inspire them."
The RCEP is a regional free trade agreement that was first proposed in 2012. It includes 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and six other countries - China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
While calling for more open markets, Premier Li also said during the meeting that the three countries should carry out joint projects in such areas as industrial capacity cooperation, poverty reduction, disaster management and energy efficiency under the umbrella of the "China-Japan-South Korea+X," Xinhua reported.
Experts noted that Wednesday's meeting will also deepen cooperation between the highly complementary economies in areas such as automobiles, high-tech, advanced manufacturing and financing.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on imports from all three countries.
"Not only would the three countries benefit from closer economic relations, but an FTA would be a hedge again rising trade protectionism," Chen said.
China, Japan and South Korea together now account for 20 percent of the world's economy and 90 percent of East Asian countries. Their total trade volume accounts for about 20 percent of the global market, according to data from the IMF.
Newspaper headline: Expedite FTA talks: premier