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High Time for East Asian Cooperation amid Setbacks in Globalization

2020-04-02 22:37:32       source:NISCSS

Remarks by President Wu Shicun of NISCSS at the China Institute for Reform and Development 

(Haikou, April 2)

Major international events in recent years such as the US-initiated trade war and Brexit herald the return of isolationism and protectionism in the world. Globalization which was long conceived as the future of mankind has suffered setbacks. Covid-19 may deal a body blow to the teetering globalization process and globalization may go faster in reverse gear. Under these new circumstances, China, Japan and Korea need to join hands in regional cooperation, build an East Asian community of shared future, mitigate the negative effects of Covid-19, and cushion the shock effect of reverse globalization. In this regard, I have three suggestions and one observation to share with you.


1. China, Japan and South Korea need to speed up and further strengthen regional economic cooperation and integration.

Our three countries, China, Japan and South Korea, enjoy close investment ties and a high degree of economic interdependence. In the past 20 years, trade among our three countries jumped from 130 billion US dollars to 720 billion US dollars, making us the most important trading partners to each other. Booming trade among us is attributable to our open and inclusive trade policies, complementary and complete industrial chains, and closely-knit network of suppliers. Covid-19 has some negative impact on our trade for the moment. According to China Customs, for example, two-way trade between China and Japan totaled 274.95 billion yuan in January and February, down 15.3% year-on-year. As the pandemic persists and demand declines further, I’m afraid trade among our three countries will continue to suffer.

Since the trilateral investment agreement was signed in May 2012, investment among our three countries has registered steady growth. In 2018, mutual investment in our three countries exceeded 11 billion US dollars. Among them, two-way investment between China and South Korea rose from 6.08 billion US dollars in 2016 to 8.4 billion US dollars in 2018, an increase of 38.2%. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, China, Japan and South Korea have introduced strict border control measures, business production and operation are disrupted, mutual investment is thereby affected.

Despite the pandemic “cloud” on trade and investment cooperation, we should recognize its “silver lining” for the benefit of faster pace in trilateral cooperation. First, as Covid-19 has disrupted our trade and economic cooperation as well as development at home, it has become more imperative for us to remove trade barriers, reduce threshold for market access, cut corporate operating costs, expand trade and investment, maintain economic growth and domestic stability, so as to mitigate and even eliminate the negative effects of the virus. Second, as the virus has dealt a body blow to our trade and economic cooperation with Europe and North America, our three countries may shift the focus from our traditional markets there to East Asia by promoting trilateral cooperation. We may move faster in the negotiations on the trilateral FTA agreement and the second-phase of China-ROK FTA agreement, and push for the timely entry into force of RCEP. Third, the closely-knit industrial chains and supply chains among China, Japan and South Korea are working well. In sharp contrast, global industrial chains have been weakened on both sides of supply and demand. As the three countries have made major progress in fighting the Covid-19 virus, trade and economic cooperation among us will gradually resume. In this context, the three countries need to make the best use of such mechanisms as the trilateral summit meeting, the trilateral economic and trade ministers’ meeting and the trilateral senior economic officials’ meeting in promoting policy coordination and planning. We can focus on firming up our strengths in existing industrial chains and supplies chains, for example those of household supplies, high-tech parts and components, textile, and machinery and electronic products. At the same time, based on the new demand in post-pandemic development, we can explore new industrial chains and supply chains and rebuild the global industrial chain system, particularly related to epidemic prevention, public health and smart medical devices.


2. A trilateral cooperation mechanism on public health should be jointly established by China, Japan and South Korea.

As the hard-hit countries in the current pandemic, the public health systems in our three countries have risen to the challenge. In light of our national conditions and epidemic transmission, the three countries have adopted different control measures and effectively curbed the spread of Covid-19 virus. We deserve credit for that. Facing this global pandemic, the three countries need to hold videoconferences among public health officials, experts and academics at different levels. We can share our experience and learn from each other in order to improve our respective public health systems. At the same time, we can also take this opportunity to explore effective epidemic control models in light of different political systems, stages of economic development and cultural traditions. The solutions we provide can be taken as reference by other countries and will make our contribution to the international prevention and control efforts. Our three countries can also work together on epidemic information sharing, crackdown on false information, aids for combating the virus, exchanges on medical technology, joint vaccine development, public health crisis management, and development of healthcare systems. A regional exchange and cooperation mechanism on public health on a regular basis needs to be quickly put in place. With deepened cooperation in public health as a breakthrough, we can also expand our practical cooperation in related areas such as tourism and education which bear close relevance to people’s life and well-being, and thus make the East Asian community of share future more substantive.


3. Trilateral Cooperation on Maritime Governance for an East Asian Maritime Community of Shared Future.

China, Japan and South Korea face each other across the sea, and the sea has witnessed the history of interaction between our three nations. Our concerted efforts in combating Covid-19 pandemic has not only provided new impetus to our trilateral cooperation on public health, but also offered an opportunity to step up maritime cooperation and governance. Covid-19 has been spreading so wide, so far and so difficult to bring under control. It has become a litmus test to social governance in affected countries. The impressive performance of our three countries indicates our comparative strengths in social governance. We can leverage our willingness of cooperation in the epidemic control efforts and our respective strengths in governance. For example, we can work more closely in global maritime governance, particularly on the joint marine scientific research and technological development, sustainable use of marine resources, protection of marine environment, and maritime crisis management. Platforms for maritime exchanges and cooperation and supporting policies should be put in place so as to deepen our cooperation in those regard.


4. The cultural dimension of the current anti-pandemic efforts of China, Japan and South Korea has become a cornerstone for the East Asian community of shared future.

Living in the Confucian cultural sphere, we feel a close affinity with each other’s cultural traditions. In particular, during the fight against Covid-19, the poetic lines attached to supplies of Japanese aid to China, such as “Lands apart, sky shared” and “Though separated by a mountain, we’ll share the same clouds and rain; the bright moon belongs not to a single town” have struck a common chord in the hearts of the Chinese and Japanese people. This has waken up their sub-consciousness that their future are closely connected and inspired more Chinese and Japanese to help each other in the joint efforts to combat the pandemic. Given the historical grievances between the two countries, this spirit of brotherhood in time of adversity is even more invaluable. When Covid-19 broke out in China, a poster on the wall of the ROK embassy in Beijing saying “China’s difficulties are our difficulties” was also highly appreciated by the public in China. When Japan and South Korea were hit by the virus, China also extended a helping hand quickly. For example, we sent to South Korea supplies along with traditional Chinese mottos and Korean poetic lines to express our best wishes, such as “A partnership that defies geographical distance is stronger than metal and stone” and “Great distance cannot separate us, we all live in a united world.” At this trying moment, we see humanity shining against the background of our shared cultural traditions which have become a special bond connecting our three countries and nations.