Korean, Chinese and Japanese experts laid out their visions for the future of the region at a seminar in Seoul on Thursday. Co-sponsored by the Chosun Ilbo and North East Asia Research, the seminar discussed the initiatives for an East Asian Community in light of the recent change of government in Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has announced a shift in foreign policy away from the focus on the U.S. and toward improving relations with China and Korea. But experts from the three countries had different ideas about how an East Asian Community is to be approached.
Korean participants noted that Japan must not just change its focus but its attitude to overcome knotty issues like historical distortions and territorial disputes. NEAR president Chung Duck-koo asked whether the framework of an East Asian Community is aimed at furthering Japan's interests in the face of an emerging China and weakening U.S. and Europe. He also expressed concern about hegemonic ambitions in China.
Former foreign minister Kong Ro-myung said, "To achieve a balance with giant China, Japan and Korea, which share many interests, must develop strategic cooperation." If the two countries discard small differences and continue to find common interests, the East Asian Community could become a reality in three or four decades, he added.
Li Wei, the director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said if an East Asian Community is to emerge, China, Japan and Korea must build up mutual trust and take bold action rather than just set up new organizations.
"An East Asian Community will contribute to regional economic cooperation, and in the long term it will help prevent regional confrontation," Li said. "Practical solutions could be cooperation in writing history textbooks and in environmental protection."
To begin with, China, Japan and Korea should conclude bilateral or trilateral free trade agreements, he said. "Pursuing a community for economic ends or out of temporary sentiment without trust between states and peoples could mean building a castle on sand, he warned.
One Japanese participant suggested an economy-first principle. "The Japanese-U.S. alliance will remain important and won't collapse, but there is a basic change in the new Japanese government's foreign policy toward Korea and China," said Eisuke Sakakibara, a professor at Waseda University. "To survive the new world order where the U.S. dominance has been replaced by an era of two giants, the U.S. and China, Japan and Korea need to cooperate closely."
As for an East Asian Community, Sakakibara said economic integration has progressed considerably among the three countries, and East Asian integration, unlike Europe's, is being led by businesses and the market.
He also proposed to form a standing organization to help stabilize exchange rates between ASEAN countries including China, Japan and Korea, and to play a vital role in creating common currency 40 to 50 years later reaching FTAs between these countries.