Can Beijing shape new Northeast Asia order?
Northeast Asian politics is encountering turbulences. The new US president is yet to put his policy toward the region in place. China and Japan are still grappling with historical and territorial disputes. The relationship between China and South Korea is chilled over the deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system. The North Korean nuclear issue is mired in a deadlock. The once manageable geopolitical situation seems quite vulnerable in the face of external influences.
Given the multiple contradictions China is facing in the region, some observers contend that it is difficult now for China to be proactive in dealing with the situation in Northeast Asia and China has to wait to react until its competitors such as the US have articulated their strategies.
This way of thinking is not surprising. For a long time, China's position seems to be passive. That is also why China often finds itself in difficult situations and lacks an overall strategy.
But, as more people desire to have better lives in the times of globalization and regional integration, positive signs are emerging in relationships between China and its neighbors. The free trade agreement (FTA) between China and South Korea has not only benefited the two peoples, but also boosted the development of the two countries. If China, Japan and South Korea can speed up negotiations on the trilateral FTA and finalize it in the near future, it will help form a strong regional community in Northeast Asia.
Eighteen months ago, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye said they they intend to restore cooperation
To realize the potentials for regional cooperation, stakeholders must dispel their mutual mistrust and engage in communication and cooperation. China can take the initiative in shaping a new order in Northeast Asia.
First, China should try to include Japan and South Korea into its One Belt and One Road initiative as soon as possible. Japan has displayed a cautious attitude toward this initiative, and South Korea's stance is not yet clear. But the initiative can help facilitate trade between industries of the two countries and promote regional coexistence. By keeping up with the times and boosting diversity, it could also help solve regional disputes.
Second, China, Japan and South Korea can jointly build a new system of Asia-Pacific free trade area, which can serve as a model for the construction of a regional cooperative and economic community. It can create a new system of free trade and multilateral cooperation, which caters to the demand and strategic orientation of the three countries. Therefore, the three countries need to break past barriers and make compromises when necessary.
Third, the three countries can push forward tourism in Northeast Asia. The reconciliation among China, Japan and South Korea largely depends on mutual understandings between the peoples, which can be reached with the expansion of tourism cooperation. Currently, the number of tourists going back and forth among the three countries has exceeded 20 million, but the basis for multilateral cooperation is still fragile. Building a tourism community can help break the barriers of communication between the peoples.
Last but not least, China, South Korea and Japan can promote the construction of a regional multilateral security pattern. Japan and South Korea resorted to a balancing tactic between China and the US in economy and security, but now, they openly side with the US. All parties should abandon the Cold-War thinking and create an atmosphere of strategic mutual trust. Sincere communication among the three to create a vision for the future may prove effective.