Fukuda: East Asia can be as strong as U.S.

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Fukuda: East Asia can be as strong as U.S.

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Participants in the annual Northeast Asia Trilateral Forum held in Shizuoka, Japan, discuss the three countries’ responses to the recent spread of isolationism worldwide, particularly after Trump’s victory. [PARK JONG-KEUN]

Elder statesmen of Korea, Japan and China recommended Monday that the three countries must push forward a trilateral free trade agreement and strengthen their currency swap agreements in order to minimize possible risks, such as trade protectionism, posed by Donald J. Trump’s election as U.S. president.

The annual Northeast Asia Trilateral Forum entered its second and final day of discussion on Monday in Shizuoka, Japan. The conference of former and current senior officials, politicians and scholars was the 11th of its kind. Former South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and former Chinese Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan led each country’s delegations of political, business and academic experts.

Participants in Monday’s forum discussed the countries’ responses to the recent spread of isolationism worldwide, particularly after Trump’s victory. The former prime ministers leading the delegations gave speeches to address the challenges.

The event was co-hosted by the JoongAng Ilbo, China’s Xinhua News Agency and Japan’s Nikkei. The two-day meeting started on Sunday with a welcome dinner.

Fukuda showed concerns about Trump’s “America First” policy, and stressed the need to minimize the impact of his victory. “To this end, the three Northeastern countries must build a more stable relationship,” he said. “The economies of the three countries, when combined, are as large as that of the United States. Therefore, there is no need for us to agitate and fuel the global instability.”

Zeng said Brexit and Trump’s win are signs that isolationism is spreading. He said the three countries must quickly create a trilateral free trade deal and sign the Comprehensive Economic Partnership at the same time in order to fight the trade protectionism.

“To remove the obstacles of economic cooperation,” he said, “currency swap programs must be expanded.”

Similar arguments were also made by other experts in the afternoon sessions. Former Finance Minister Sakong Il said currency swap programs are the most cost-effective tool to stabilize financial markets.

“It is unreasonable,” he said, “that political reasons are barring currency swap deals.”

Lee said the three countries must change their geographical awareness, adding, “After Trump was elected, the fates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the free trade agreements, which were at their final stages, are now uncertain. We must admit superpowers like the United States and Russia are now part of our region.”

Lee also stressed the importance of diplomacy, particularly to resolve the North Korea issue. Noting that the United States, Russia, China and Japan are the world’s top four countries in terms of military and economy, Lee said their failure to resolve the peninsula issue means that the world won’t be able to resolve it. “We need to revive diplomacy,” he stressed.

On Sunday’s opening event, participants also addressed the growing challenges of the region.

Noting that an administration the likes of which the world has never seen will soon begin in the United States, Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and JTBC, said Sunday a geopolitical diastrophism is expected in Northeast Asia.

He said Korea, China and Japan have yet to overcome their prejudices toward each other, and that no improvement was made since he expressed the same concern last year.

Hong said the elder statesmen of the three countries have long praised the plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo as the “Four Gentlemen” for their resilience, beauty and fragrances, and the three countries must now revisit the value of these plants.

Through his welcome speech for the Sunday’s event, Nikkei’s President Naotoshi Okada said the relationships of the three countries had seen some improvement, but that trilateral ties are still weak. “Amid the deepening global trend of isolationism,” he said, “I expect to see constructive and in-depth discussions about the three countries’ cooperation.”

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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