• Kyodo

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Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji on Monday proposed that a feasibility study be conducted on the establishment of a free-trade area encompassing Japan, South Korea and China, Japanese officials said.

Zhu made the proposal during talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean Prime Minister Kim Suk Soo in Phnom Penh. The three leaders agreed to participate with private think tanks in assessing the economic impact such an undertaking would have on their respective countries.

Zhu said the formation of a free-trade area among the three nations would be a significant step toward unifying the East Asian economies.

Koizumi said it should be considered as a mid- to long-term issue, the officials said.

The three nations also agreed to increase cooperation in fields including trade, environmental protection, information technology and the exchange of people, they said.

Koizumi’s proposal to create a so-called intellectual-exchange research center, which would promote exchanges between the three nations’ research institutes, was met with a favorable response, they said.

The leaders met on the sidelines of a series of meetings hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Later Monday, the three were scheduled to confer with leaders from the 10-member ASEAN on issues of mutual concern under the ASEAN Plus Three framework.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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