Japan, China and South Korea may have many differences, but late last month they managed to agree on one thing -tourism. At a meeting of tourism ministers from the three countries, an agreement was forged about guidelines to promote tourism. When agreement on so many other issues in the region has long been difficult, this trilateral meeting is a solid step forward in regional cooperation.

Agreeing to share information and develop campaigns for the recovery of the tourist industry is especially urgent for Japan. The number of tourists who visited Japan in April plunged 60 percent from a year earlier. South Korea and China are first and second in numbers of tourists visiting Japan, with South Koreans comprising 28 percent and China 16 percent of visitors.

Re-establishing those past levels will provide an important boost for Japan’s economic recovery.

Fortunately, China has already pledged to send more visitors to Japan and has endorsed the safety of tours after fears about radiation scared away many travelers. Hopefully, that momentum can be continued. The new trilateral meeting also worked out guidelines to follow when natural disasters, terrorism and infectious diseases threaten the tourist industry. Their next meeting is scheduled for 2012 in Tohoku to support reconstruction there.

Even more hopefully, the tourism ministers planned to jointly develop 10 “golden tour” routes linking the three countries. Such tour routes would be more than just a welcome source of income. All three countries have scores of cultural treasures whose historical connections are profound. Reconnecting them makes good sense. All three countries also have the basic tourist infrastructure already in place.

While the effects of the tourist industry have been negative in some Asian countries, a mutual understanding of shared cultural values and leisure interests will allow a more positive and fruitful development of tourism. It is important that this initiative be pursued realistically with eco-friendly awareness and genuine exchanges of understanding.

Trilateral tourism just might succeed in bringing about what years of political posturing and rancorous trade negotiations have failed to do — establish better cooperation in a powerful region of the world. That would be a fitting tribute to the shared history of China, Japan and Korea and a hopeful step toward future cooperation in other areas as well.

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