Fact Box

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Drag back


The US is once again pulling Northeast Asia into confrontation and conflict

The United States has made it clear that China is its biggest competitor, and the strategic competition between the two countries is setting the tone for the international landscape.

Competition itself is not a bad thing, but it should be healthy and rules-based. Otherwise it could lead to a global catastrophe. Washington is now sabotaging the rules the US itself made in order to maintain its own strengths and hegemony. It has even adopted more aggressive policies and neglected strategic balance, which reflects its arrogance. In Northeast Asia, Japan regards the Russia-Ukraine conflict as a key opportunity to adjust its national security policy, and follows the US' lead in imposing sanctions on Russia. Tokyo is aligning itself firmly with the US and Europe, while viewing China, Russia, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as security threats or even rivals. In the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the forming of blocs has become a new trend among Northeast Asian countries.

Economic cooperation among Asian countries is also facing challenges. The US is trying to win over some countries to rebuild its supply chains, which is in essence promoting ideology and setting up camps in the economic arena. The so-called Build Back Better World initiative, or B3W, proposed during the G7 summit in 2021, and the "Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity" initiated by the US, are exclusive and political. This kind of practice, representing a backlash against globalization, will interfere with the existing cooperation frameworks such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, increase corporate costs, reduce economic efficiency, and make supply chains more fragile instead of "more resilient" as the US has claimed.

These practices will also intensify the world's economic woes, worsen the geopolitical situation in Asia, and push up political and economic risks in East Asia.

Japan, which claims to be on the frontline of the confrontation between the US and China, has expressed its readiness to strengthen cooperation with like-minded countries and elevated the issue of economic security into its national legislation. The Republic of Korea and the US have established regular ministerial-level dialogues on supply chains and businesses to ensure the resilience of supply chains. The US, through its efforts to exclude China from its supply chains and building up alliances in economic cooperation, is dragging East Asia back from an era of open and win-win cooperation to an era in which countries pit themselves against their neighbors, thereby destroying the value bonds in the East Asian economic circle and damaging the region's global competitiveness.

In light of this, some Japanese and ROK business leaders have voiced doubts in the lawmaking on economic security.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has severely affected the security of global supply chains, particularly the food supply chains as a result of the gridlocked grain exports and energy supplies.

The rise in global energy prices has pushed up inflation in various countries and escalated security risks in global supply chains. All the G7 members have accused Russia of fueling the rise in food prices. However, Western sanctions against Russia are obviously another reason for the rise in energy prices and inflation.

China, the ROK, and Japan are all powerful and influential countries in Northeast Asia and the world. The total GDP of the three countries in 2021 was about $24.4 trillion, higher than the US' $23 trillion. The three countries are each other's key trading partners. In 2021, trade between China and Japan reached $371.4 billion, trade between China and the ROK was $362.4 billion, and trade between the ROK and Japan was about $84.8 billion. China has long been the largest trading partner of the ROK and Japan, as trade with China accounted for 28.8 percent of the ROK's foreign trade and 22.9 percent of Japan's foreign trade last year. The three countries have very close economic relations and play a pivotal role in stabilizing the regional economy. The RCEP, which has come into effect, has further deepened the industry and supply chains in the Asia-Pacific region, including those among China, the ROK and Japan, helping the three countries to leverage their respective advantages and the complementary nature of their industries, and improved the level of trade and investment cooperation among regional countries. If negotiations over a China-Japan-ROK Free Trade Area are successful, it will play an important role in further stabilizing the regional economy.

However, the joint efforts among China, the ROK and Japan to promote economic development and regional stability in East Asia could be disturbed by unstable political and security relations. China-Japan relations are facing greater challenges due to Washington's strategy. Tokyo has been actively encouraged by Washington to increase its involvement in Asia with a view to containing China. Meanwhile, Japan and the ROK have not resolved their fundamental differences, and pragmatic obstacles and vulnerabilities in bilateral relations have remained. After a new government took office in the ROK, there could be an opportunity for China and the ROK to reset their relations.

In general, the unsatisfactory political relations and the lack of strategic trust among China, the ROK and Japan show that the role of economic relations as a ballast in international relations is still limited. A decline in trust over security issues and the deterioration of political relations will inevitably affect economic cooperation between countries. At the same time, widening political rifts will inevitably affect economic cooperation, and the region will become more turbulent as a result. The frequent canceling of leaders' meetings between the three countries and the stagnation of negotiations over a trilateral free trade agreement are both related to the deterioration of political relations. In the face of new challenges, it is high time the three countries seriously consider the future of their relations and cooperation.

In 1999, the leaders of China, the ROK and Japan set in motion trilateral dialogue and cooperation in a bid to draw lessons from the Asian financial crisis in 1997.They believed that through deepening cooperation, the regional economy could be better stabilized and a win-win situation could be achieved. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the ROK and the 50th anniversary of the normalization of China-Japan relations. The three countries should earnestly sum up the experience and lessons from the past, firmly grasp the general direction of cooperation, and jointly respond to new challenges to achieve regional prosperity and stability.

The author is vice-president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn