BEIJING – The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea on Sunday agreed to enhance cooperation on regional security and a trilateral free-trade agreement, but their unity was somewhat overshadowed by a delay in presenting gifts of crested ibises.
During the one-day meeting in Beijing, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak agreed to expand their cooperation in dealing with the rising tensions in Asia set off by North Korea’s failed launch last month of a rocket using ballistic missile technology in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
On the economic front, the three leaders agreed to start negotiations by the end of the year on the three-way trade pact, after their trade ministers recommended doing so on Saturday.
To lay the groundwork for the launch of the negotiations, the three countries, which together account for about 20 percent of the world economy, also signed an accord aimed at improving the levels of investment protection in each country.
But China had to put off its plan to present a pair of crested ibises to Japan and South Korea as a gesture of friendship, according to Japanese officials.
At the last minute, senior officials of the three countries failed to reach a deal on the signing of the presentation because South Korea objected to receiving the gift from China at the same time as Japan, according to Japan-China diplomatic sources.
In the runup to the summit, Japan and China were eager to announce the immediate launch of FTA talks, but this was also sidelined by South Korea’s reluctance, due in part to its preference for bilateral FTA talks with China. Seoul does not believe it will benefit by liberalizing trade with Japan.
Even if negotiations were to begin, achieving the ultimate goal of establishing a liberalized trade framework among the three will likely require many years of arduous talks.
Japanese officials said they hope to formally declare the launch of the three-way FTA talks in November, when the leaders might get together on the sidelines of a regional summit in Cambodia involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus their dialogue partners.
Nevertheless, in the belief that regional stability is a prerequisite for economic growth, the three leaders debated how best to prevent the new leadership in Pyongyang from taking further provocative actions, such as testing another nuclear explosive device, according to the officials.
Appeal from Wen
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged regional powers Sunday to work harder to prevent tensions on the Korean Peninsula from escalating “with wisdom, patience and good will,” Xinhua news agency reported.
“What is the most urgent (for us) is to make all-out efforts to prevent the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Wen was quoted as saying after a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak. “All the sides should give full play to their wisdom, keep patient and display their good will to alleviate conflict and return to the right track of dialogue and negotiations,” Wen said, calling for the resumption of six-party nuclear talks.