Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul unite in face of crisis

by Jun Hongo

FUKUOKA — Leaders of Japan, China and South Korea pledged Saturday to enhance coordination to counter the global economic turmoil in their first-ever trilateral summit.

During the summit in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Prime Minister Taro Aso agreed to a request by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to increase Japan’s currency-swap agreement with Seoul to $30 billion.

Aso, Lee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also pledged their commitment to expedite the Chiang Mai Initiative and boost currency swaps.

The global financial crisis topped the agenda as the three met for the first time other than on the sidelines of other international conferences.

“It is significant that the three countries work hand in hand to make progress,” Aso told reporters following the meeting with his counterparts.

“Besides influencing each other, the three countries can have a substantial impact on the global economy,” Lee told reporters after their meeting, welcoming the specific actions pledged, including the increased currency swaps to combat the ailing economy.

“Today’s talks during the summit had a great outcome, and I thank Japan for its efforts in preparing the event,” Wen said. He also pledged to stabilize China’s import-export situation, which would greatly contribute to the regional economy.

The three leaders said they will continue to study the possibility of a trilateral free-trade agreement and develop private-sector cooperation.

“Asian countries are expected to play a role as the center of world economic growth,” the Joint Statement on the International Finance and Economy by the three parties said.

Japan, China and South Korea account for 75 percent of East Asia’s gross domestic product and about 17 percent of the global GDP.

Aso reiterated his view to his counterparts that the Chiang Mai Initiative — set up among Asian economies in 2000 to enhance multilateral currency swaps — should be expanded in the face of the economic meltdown.

The three countries also agreed trade protectionism should be avoided and a comprehensive conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda must be reached as early as possible.

Aso, Wen and Lee signed the Joint Statement for Tripartite Partnership after their two-hour meeting at Kyushu National Museum and agreed to collaborate for mutual benefit, assist one another to stabilize regional issues and to hold regular summits.

They also agreed to cooperate and provide speedy assistance when natural disaster strikes one of the countries and issued the Trilateral Joint Announcement on Disaster Management Cooperation. Under the agreement, a ministerial meeting will be held in Japan next year to discuss ways to reinforce disaster preparedness.

The three leaders also said the six-party framework for denuclearizing North Korea should remain, even though this week’s six-way talks in Beijing ended in impasse.

“The three countries will make concerted efforts with other relevant parties to push forward the process of the six-party talks,” said an action plan for promoting trilateral cooperation issued after the summit.

The three leaders also discussed the need to collaborate on African aid, development of clean energy use in East Asia, exploring further youth exchanges and collaborating to advance and reinforce the U.N. Security Council.

They will meet for the second trilateral summit next year in China and in South Korea in 2010, it was announced.

Earlier in the day, Aso held bilateral talks with the two leaders. Aso and Lee agreed on the currency-swap increase during their 50-minute talk. This will help South Korea obtain foreign currency as the value of the won plummets against both the dollar and the yen. The won has triggered liquidity problems after falling over 30 percent against the dollar this year.

Lee called South Korea and Japan “one united economic region” and urged continued discussions to forge free-trade agreements, a Foreign Ministry official from Tokyo said.

While no mention was made about the sovereignty of the disputed Takeshima islets, which are under South Korea’s control, the two sides agreed to develop closer ties through frequent summits and civilian exchanges via enhanced working-holiday visas.

Aso also talked about North Korea’s abductions of Japanese and asked Lee for his support. Lee replied that he has the utmost understanding toward the issue and for relatives of the victims.

The two confirmed they will collaborate with the U.S. to achieve a proper agreement on North Korea’s denuclearization process.

In a meeting with Wen, Aso protested the intrusion earlier this month of Chinese ships near the disputed Senkaku islets, which Japan controls.

Both sides claim sovereignty and fell short of reaching any agreement.

Their bilateral summit also touched on the joint development of gas fields in East China Sea and the issue of food safety involving imported Chinese products.

The two sides fell short of making substantial progress, but Aso stressed that the meeting, which became the fifth summit held between Tokyo and Beijing in 2008, was the most ever in terms of numbers and symbolizes a new era of a stronger strategic bilateral partnership.

“As the looming economic crisis continues to widely affect and strike the world, it is of practical significance that the three countries work hand in hand to overcome difficulties,” Wen told Aso during the bilateral meeting.

Both Lee and Wen asked Aso to visit their countries early next year, and Aso agreed to do so as soon as possible.