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Monday, March 14, 2011


East Asian Big Three should work toward building new community

Japan and South Korea urged to cooperate in dealing with China, up bilateral exchanges

Staff writer

East Asian countries should pursue regional community building partly as a framework to ensure China's "peaceful rise," and greater trilateral cooperation among Japan, South Korea and China will hold the key to that goal, South Korean journalists said.

News photo
Journalists from South Korean newspapers (from left) Kim Tae Ik, Kim Seon Tae, Bae Myung Bok and Hong Kwon Heui discuss East Asia community building and the roles of Japan and South Korea during the March 4 symposium at Keidanren Kaikan in Tokyo. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

One way to promote a sense of East Asian community is to learn from Europe's efforts to build common human resources through regionwide joint education programs, they said.

These were among the ideas advocated by the senior South Korean journalists who took part in a symposium held March 4 in Tokyo by the Keizai Koho Center under the theme, "East Asia's development and the roles of Japan and South Korea."

How to deal with the rise of China is a common challenge facing Japan and South Korea, and that is where Tokyo and Seoul have much room to cooperate, said Bae Myung Bok, an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

While China's rise has brought about a global power shift toward East Asia, countries in the region need to pursue the building of a community to ensure stability and sustainable growth, Bae said.

Discussions over East Asian community building, however, have made little progress so far as too many ideas have been floated in terms of both sequence — where to start — and scope — which countries should join, he noted.

Another problem, Bae said, is the asymmetrical structure of the debate over a regional community. While the push for an East Asian community has so far been driven by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations teaming up with its partner countries, the economic size of ASEAN member countries is dwarfed by Northeast Asian nations Japan, China and South Korea, which combined account for a quarter of the world's population and one-fifth of the world's total gross domestic product in terms of purchasing power parity, he said.

Bae noted that Japan, China and South Korea have in fact been stepping up efforts for cooperation. Based on a May 2010 agreement among their top leaders, an office for trilateral cooperation is set to open in Incheon, South Korea, as early as the first half of this year, he said.

This move, Bae said, has a symbolic importance as the first step for institutionalizing cooperation among Japan, China and South Korea, which have been hindered by historical problems, differences in political systems and lack of leadership.

Regional community building is a long-term process of trial and error, and one key ingredient is the efforts to promote understanding of other countries among youths through education, said Kim Tae Ik, an editorial writer for The Chosun Ilbo daily. One of the backbones of the European Union, Kim said, is its long-standing efforts to build a sense of regional community through various education programs.

One example is the College of Europe, an institute of postgraduate European studies established in 1949 by prominent European leaders to promote "a spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding," he said. Graduates of the institute, which has campuses in Belgium and Poland, have played key roles in European integration efforts, he added.

Another is the Erasmus (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) Program, started in 1987 to promote student exchanges among European countries, Kim said. More than 2.2 million students have so far taken part in the program.

Today, 75 percent of the 140,000 international students studying in Japan are from South Korea and China, while Japanese and Chinese account for 80 percent of about 83,000 international students in South Korea, Kim noted.

"If we're setting the goal of the common development of East Asia, human resources who have the knowledge of global affairs beyond national borders and think in terms of bridging countries are required," Kim said.

Japan, China and South Korea need to set such a strategy and create common educational programs to carry it out, he said. Specifically, leaders of the three countries should be ready to invest in the creation of an Asian version of the College of Europe and to promote student exchanges in the region, he added.

In Japan, few concrete discussions followed when former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama advocated East Asian community building in 2009. Over the past several months, meanwhile, the government has weighed the option of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade arrangement backed by the United States.

However, Hong Kwon Heui, an editorial writer for The Dong-A Ilbo, said that despite Prime Minister Naoto Kan's avowed push for the pact, the possibility of Japan actually joining the accord will be slim. And South Korea's participation in the TPP will be even less likely, given that Seoul will focus for now on implementing its free trade agreements with the EU and the U.S., Hong said.

Hong said that the TPP, which aims to basically eliminate signatories' import tariffs on all goods including farm products, is pushed by the U.S. for reasons that are more political than economic. The U.S. push for the pact "reflects America's strategic concern" over deepening China-led economic cooperation among Asian countries and has the motive of keeping in check China's influence in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

For the U.S., economic benefits from concluding the TPP will be rather small because it already has free trade agreements with four of the nine prospective participants, Hong said.

Japan, for its part, needs to pull out of the economic doldrums and improve the global competitiveness of its companies, he said. Tokyo also wants to deepen its ties with the U.S. through the TPP and keep China in check — a motive that had earlier pushed South Korea to pursue an FTA with the U.S., he pointed out.

However, it now seems unlikely that the Kan administration, with its declining leadership and falling popular support, can overcome opposition from the domestic farm lobby and resistance even among his Democratic Party of Japan ranks to follow through on his bid to join the TPP negotiations, Hong noted.

South Korea is monitoring discussions in Japan over the TPP but will likely not rush to join the pact itself, given the fact that it already has concluded free trade agreements with most of the prospective participants, except for Australia and Japan, he added. The South Korean business community is rather more interested in the possibility of a free trade accord with China than in the proposed Pacific Rim free trade pact, Hong said.

Free trade talks between Japan and South Korea have resumed but are not making much headway. But Kim Seon Tae, an editorial writer for The Korea Economic Daily, noted that, alongside the efforts to boost trade relations through an FTA, the two countries should take steps to expand cultural exchanges that would eventually enhance bilateral ties.

A big imbalance lingers in the trade of pop culture between the two countries even after South Korea gradually lifted restrictions on Japanese culture in recent decades, he pointed out. Whereas South Korean TV dramas are widely accepted by Japanese fans and Korean girl bands are now regular features on Japanese music charts, the popularity of Japanese pop culture is still limited to enthusiasts and has not exploded among the wider South Korean audience, Kim noted.

This is due to unfair competition, Kim said. Though South Korea has taken steps in recent decades to gradually open up its market to Japanese culture, including the most recent measures taken in 2004, Japanese TV programs are still banned on terrestrial TV broadcasts, he said.

Last September, a popular Japanese girl band made headlines when they sang two songs with original Japanese lyrics during a live program on a South Korean TV channel, Kim said. The ban on the performance of Japanese songs with Japanese lyrics on terrestrial TV was lifted in 2004, but South Korean TV stations continued to keep an internal rule banning such performances on their programs, he pointed out.

Expanding pop culture exchanges between Japan and South Korea should be considered as a win-win situation for both countries, rather than one side eating into the market of the other, Kim said. In the next round of its review of the Japanese cultural import policy, the South Korean government needs to create a framework where cultural exchanges can proceed without any restrictions, he said.

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