Preserve trilateral cooperationThe Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat in downtown Seoul is a symbolic organization for mutual development of Korea, China and Japan, three major economies in Northeast Asia. Established last September, the TCS aims to achieve peace and mutual prosperity as agreed by three leaders of the countries. Its staff members have much to worry about these days as a result of sharp disputes among member nations over the Dokdo islets and Diaoyu Islands, or Senkaku Islands in Japanese.
Shin Bong-gil, secretary general of the TCS, is concerned about a potential prolonged dispute that could seriously damage the trilateral cooperation. If prolonged, it could lead to a critical situation where their future-oriented collaborative projects cannot proceed due to conflicts originating in the past. Leaders of Korea, China and Japan may not have their separate meetings at the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations +3 Summit in Cambodia in November in a sharp departure from the past.
We have strongly urged both Seoul and Tokyo to exercise restraint as further deterioration of the crisis is not desirable for either side. Yet the Japanese government reportedly plans to push ahead with an all-out retaliation against Korea - including bringing the Dokdo discord to the International Court of Justice, reducing Korea-Japan currency swaps, opposing Korea becoming a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and suspending shuttle diplomacy.
Underneath the mounting territorial feud is Japan’s imperialistic past that is tainted by militarism. No one knows what direction the conflict will take when mixed with nationalistic sentiments. Without Japan’s candid remorse and apology for its disgraceful past, the issue cannot be addressed.
Japan may fret about China’s marvelous rise and Korea’s remarkable leap on the global stage and even a small provocation can lead Tokyo to overreact. At a time like this, each side should regain its composure and stop provoking the other for domestic political reasons.
The three countries account for 19.6 percent of the world’s GDP, 17.6 percent of the trade volume and 47.8 percent of the foreign reserves. Cooperation among them is key not only for Northeast Asia, but for the world. If they are mired in conflicts over territory and the past, it will only backfire. All of them must act carefully and prudently.