Today, amidst the coexistence of globalization and regionalization in the worldwide commercial environment, all countries are seeking multifaceted countermeasures in order to survive intense international competition. The ROK, China and Japan have frequently been perceived as “neighbors that are geographically close while at the same time being distant politically”. It is thought that this is due in great part to such political factors as the problems of their past history, wars of aggression and territorial disputes.
Although there have been some troubles and difficulties along the way, relationships between the three countries are improving overall. As a result of the increase in interpersonal and cultural exchange, as well as the development of communications media (the internet), the scope of mutual interests is broadening. This tendency is particularly strong between the ROK and Japan. The close relationship between the ROK and Japan that emerged as a result of their joint hosting of the 2002 World Cup is absolutely unprecedented. Furthermore, the ROK and Japan cannot avoid having a great deal of interest in economic cooperation with China, which has one of the world’s biggest economies. In addition, the East Asian financial crisis made the need for closer economic relationships in Northeast Asia more compelling. Moreover, the realization has dawned that proactive measures should be taken in Northeast Asia with regard to the worldwide spread of regionalization.
A plan for institutional cooperation between the ROK, China and Japan is also being sought. Starting with the summit between the ROK, China and Japan that took place in Manila in November 1999, discussions between the three countries regarding economic cooperation have been intensifying. At the three-party summit that took place in Phnom Penh in November 2002, discussions regarding economic integration began in earnest with the formal recommendation by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that an FTA involving the ROK, China and Japan be considered. At the Bali summit in October 2003, a joint statement by the three countries was adopted, which included plans for cooperation in 14 fields, focusing mainly on the economy, security, and social and cultural issues.
Northeast Asia faces a variety of problems, including differing political systems, war and history-related problems, and disparities in levels of economic development; accordingly, it would be almost impossible to implement institutional economic cooperation of the kind seen in North America and Europe. However, given the improvements in the relationships between the ROK, China and Japan that have taken place over the last five years, it is expected that progress over the next five years will far exceed that seen so far. Internally, all three countries are sympathetic to the need for economic cooperation, while externally, they are compelled to respond to rapid changes in the global commercial environment. In some instances, certain states may take a passive stance with regard to economic cooperation in Northeast Asia, but it is clear that countries excluded from cooperation will incur considerable losses and will ultimately have no choice other than to participate. The time is coming when we should translate into reality the plan for Northeast Asia cooperation that has been set out via the summits between the ROK, China and Japan.