This week, Japan, South Korea and China held their first trilateral leaders’ summit in nearly five years. As ever, attendees — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and the host, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol — found common ground on economic issues, mouthed pieties about political concerns and promised to promote people-to-people exchanges to facilitate future cooperation.

Ultimately, the geopolitics of the triangle — heightened tensions between the United States and China and the fact that Japan and South Korea are allied with Washington — precluded any substantive agreements. Instead, the meeting served primarily as a confidence-building measure that can restore regularity to their trilateral summitry and build a foundation for real progress in the future. That progress is much needed.

The first trilateral summit was held in 1999, and a regular process was launched in 2008 to discuss and promote regional cooperation. The concept makes intuitive sense because the three countries share a common culture, are neighbors, and face similar security concerns. And even though North Korea poses different threats to each country, they all agree on the need for stability.