TCS’s status must be enhancedSong Min-soon
South Korea, China and Japan together account for 21 percent of the world population and 23 percent of the world’s GDP. Yet the three countries lack a regional cooperative system like the EU. The three nations first held their trilateral summit in 1999 on the sidelines of the Asean Plus Three summit in Manila and since 2008 have been taking turns hosting the three-way meetings except when relations soured and no meeting was held at all.
At each trilateral summit are ministerial-level consultation groups of foreign affairs, finance, trade, environment and health, among others, as well as working-level discussions of varying levels. The countries focus more on cooperating in the fields of health, environment, disaster relief and human exchanges rather than more sensitive issues such as politics and military and national security.
If the three countries continue to build cooperation through dialogue, they could one day resolve their overlapping air defense identification zones or — in case they see progress with North Korean denuclearization — discuss joint projects such as those for developing North Korea’s economy.
At the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS), an ambassador-level official from each country takes turn serving as the general secretary for two years, and 26 workers in the office mostly deal with tasks such as preparing for disasters, raising awareness for environment protection and preventing disease infections.
At times when China was at odds with Japan, South Korea used to help both sides strike a balance. The very fact that the TCS is located in Seoul reflects South Korea’s unique characteristic in Northeast Asia. Seoul has led the trilateral relationship throughout the past administrations of Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun and Lee Myung-bak. Luckily South Korea is now receiving wide acclaim for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Seoul must seize this opportunity to continuously lead various cooperative relations in Northeast Asia and solidify its global role.