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Trilateral meeting offers ray of hope that East Asia can find firmer footing: China Daily editorial

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-26 19:09

The China-Japan-ROK Trilateral Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Busan, the Republic of Korea, on Sunday is the first since 2019.

Relations between China and its two East Asian neighbors had become increasingly fraught in the intervening years, as the US administration has worked hard to draw its two allies into its "Indo-Pacific" strategy at the expense of their ties with China.

If the three sides can take advantage of the meeting to pave the way for an anticipated trilateral meeting of their heads of state, to be arranged at the "earliest convenient time", the Busan meeting might become an overture to a much-needed thawing of relations between China and its two neighbors.

It is against the backdrop of easing tensions between Beijing and Washington that the trilateral foreign ministers' meeting is being staged. The pace with which Tokyo and Seoul are trying to repair relations with Beijing has apparently accelerated after the meeting between the leaders of China and the United States in San Francisco earlier this month, in which the two sides reached some consensus to strengthen exchanges and responsibly manage the Sino-US relations and avoid decoupling and confrontation.

Subsequently, the leaders of Japan and China held their first meeting in a year on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, which was held alongside the summit. ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol also exchanged warm greetings with his Chinese counterpart face-to-face during the multilateral gathering.

And the generally friendly and constructive tones of the readouts of the ROK-China and Japan-China bilateral foreign minister's meetings arranged on Saturday and Sunday before their trilateral meeting show their readiness to focus on economic and trade cooperation, as well as their common recognition of the difficulties that they face in resolving their divergences on some issues, not least pro-US diplomacy of Tokyo and Seoul, which touches on China's core interests.

As long as Japan and the ROK surrender their strategic autonomy to the US, the extent to which they can mend ties with Beijing will depend on how much space Washington grants them to do so.

Their security cooperation with the US is set by their trilateral and respective bilateral agreements, through which the US holds the reins on how they address regional hotspot issues such as the maritime tensions in the East and South China seas and even the Taiwan question, a grave interference in China's internal affairs.

Even the economic and trade cooperation between China and the two countries, where they have broad common interests, is now restricted by the economic, trade and technology pacts introduced by the US. For instance, both the ROK and Japan have been pressured to be part of the "chip alliance" Washington has founded to try and prevent China having access to advanced chips and related equipment.

It is likely that the relations between China and the two US allies will take on a dual-track model with Washington pulling the strings it has affixed to Seoul and Tokyo.

But despite this, if the leaders of the three East Asian countries can have their first trilateral meeting since 2019, it would undoubtedly provide a boost for the regional stability as well as bolster confidence in the economic prospects of the global economy.

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