Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Eyes on East Asian future

By Liu Junhong (China Daily) Updated: 2011-05-25 08:05

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea (ROK) met in Tokyo on May 21-22 as scheduled, even though Japan is still recovering from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, demonstrating the three countries' consensus on regional responsibility.

The leaders agreed to strengthen a future-oriented partnership aimed at constructing a nuclear power safety and disaster prevention system, and developing common food, energy and environmental security.

The separate visits by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to the earthquake stricken area on May 21 conveyed the two countries' deep sympathy and respect to the victims of the disaster. The three leaders also tasted foods from the disaster area at their banquet, strengthening local people's confidence in an overall recovery and creating a good political environment for economic recovery in the area.

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The three main players in East Asia also agreed to accelerate trilateral negotiations on investment and research for the China-Japan-ROK free trade zone. They also decided to expedite custom procedures and expand air routes to improve trade and personnel exchanges.

In the wake of the March 11 tragedy, the three sides made it a top priority to cooperate on non-traditional threats. The disasters that hit Japan have emphasized the importance of disaster prevention and nuclear safety, which are just two of the many new threats, such as food safety, energy safety and environmental problems, facing mankind.

The leaders of the three nations have more than enough reasons to stand together. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, droughts continually hit Asia. While severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), bird flu, swine flu and the other epidemics repeatedly plague local people, while air pollution, environmental degradation, water depletion and lack of natural resources also claim lives.

The recent events in Japan are just a case in point, with the three interconnected events damaging infrastructure, social order and the psychology of the public. The area's production, distribution and power supply all collapsed, which has affected Asia's regional economy and people's lives.

In fact the earthquake spread its shock waves in ripples around the globe by cutting the supply chains of industry and capital flow, affecting the lives for billions.

A common disaster prevention and relief system must be built in East Asia since no country can cope with such disasters without the cooperation of its neighbors in such a globalized era.

Cooperation in East Asia actually originated from dealing with common challenges. In late 1997, the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea were invited to attend the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), forming the "ASEAN + 3" mechanism.

The first summit of the three countries was held in 2008, upgrading regional teamwork and deepening cooperation. The United States and Russia were invited to attend the East Asia summit in October 2010, turning it to an increasingly important multilateral meeting.

The interdependence of the three countries in economic and trade sectors will necessarily lead to interdependence on unconventional fronts. The three disasters in Japan have reminded the three countries to take immediate action to initiate regional disaster prevention and mutual assistance.

The conventional safety cooperation model is based on common values and ideologies. But unconventional safety issues are immune to boundaries and ideological differences and pose a threat to regional peace and prosperity no less than military conflicts.

China, Japan and South Korea should take the lead in cooperation in fields of environmental, food and resources security and confront the ever-growing number of unconventional challenges they all face.

Upgrading cooperation from trade to unconventional concerns is not a choice, but a compulsory step to be taken by all nations.

The author is a researcher with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

China Forum

(China Daily 05/25/2011 page8)

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