The 61st meeting of "Diplomatic Roundtable" on "Regional Integration in East Asia from Korean Perspective" Held

JFIR and its two sister organizations, the Global Forum of Japan and the Council on East Asian Community, taking advantage of an occasion of a visit to Japan of a prominent person on international and other affairs, monthly organize a "Diplomatic Roundtable" meeting, which is an informal gathering of members of the three organizations for a frank exchange of views and opinions with the visiting guest. The 61st "Diplomatic Roundtable" was held on 7th July 2010 on the topic of "Regional Integration in East Asia from Korean Perspectives." An outline of the presentation by JIN Chang Soo, Director of the Sejong Institute Japan Center, was as follows:

Having experienced Asian currency crisis in 1997 and financial crisis in 2008, East Asia countries recognized needs for multilateral regional cooperation. Establishment of several regional frameworks consequently emerged as a new trend, in which observed was the increasing importance of the Japan-China-Korea trilateral relations, while different forms and ideas on regional frameworks compete with each other. Behind this trend is the fact that the while the scale of the economy in the region is still expanding, conventional mechanisms such as APEC do not function properly, and changes of administrations took place with new policies in Japan and South Korea.

East Asia, as a region, has three destabilizing factors of (1) dilemmas of pre-modern nature, as exemplified by historical and territorial issues and un-unified Korean peninsula, (2) competition of modern nature as exemplified by change in power-balance between Japan and China, and (3) competition of post-modern nature as exemplified by the surge of globalization. While none of them has been settled down nor even addressed yet, these factors create diverse problems and make the regional situation even complicated. In contrast, the regional integration in Europe has already entered into the stage of post-modern nature. This contrast could be explained by the fact that the cooperative frameworks in East Asia have a dual structure of economy and security, and the competition for leadership between Japan and China affects the regional integration negatively. Furthermore, Japan, China and South Korea respectively put forward different frameworks based on their own national interests. It is therefore unlikely that these obstacles will soon be overcome and that this region steps into further regional integration as in Europe.

As for future prospects of the region, a key factor is what is called the "China factor." China will soon transform itself from a "world's factory" to a "world's market," purchasing a large amount of goods from the rest of the world. This will bring about increasing dependence on China especially of the neighboring countries, especially, of Japan and South Korea, both of which rely on the export-driven economic model. Then the bargaining power of the two countries would be relatively undermined. In the long run, the neighboring countries' asymmetric economic reliance on China will be accelerated and entrenched. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to renew its balance between China and the United State, while the former-ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) had developed a value-oriented diplomacy, which was considered a containment policy against China. The DPJ administration could not re-balance the relationship with the United States. As a result, the DPJ administration laid out almost the same policies for East Asia as LDP's. One could say that Japan does not have a clear strategy towards East Asia, and this creates disenchantment with Japan and Japan's neighboring countries including South Korea would lose interests with Japan.

The Lee Myung-bak administration, which started in 2009 as the first conservative government in 10 years, has set economic development as their top priority, while the former progressive administrations as Roh Moo-hyun's had focused on security issue (especially, threats from North Korea). The latter regarded U.S.-China power balance as zero-sum and tried to take a balance between the two countries. In contrast, the Lee Myung-bak administration is trying to create mutually beneficial relationship with both China and the U.S. This policy change is seen by China as a shift to pro-U.S. stance. But Lee Myung-bak's true intention is an expansion of its diplomatic scope through Asia and South Korea's contribution to solving various problems including global issues. This diplomatic policy, called "New Asia Initiative" , is intended to set South Korea's position as a middle-rank nation by taking a balance between Japan and China, and between developed and developing countries. At the same time, it also seeks to elevate South Korea's international status. To these ends, South Korea has a policy to enhance its contribution to the regional cooperation gradually by utilizing the Japan-China-Korea trilateral relations as a core network and also the other existing regional frameworks. As for its relation with China, South Korea thinks it necessary to bind China's behavior institutionally by involving China in multilateral frameworks.


The Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR)