Time for Northeast Asia to steer regional growth by cooperation

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/13 7:27:15

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave an important speech during the 4th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), where he emphasized two keywords: “Northeast Asia” and “Far East.”  The speech has drawn enthusiastic responses.

Coherent to the theme of the forum, “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities,” Xi’s speech has greatly broadened people’s understanding on the opportunities and cooperation in Northeast Asia. Xi’s remarks have also expounded the principles and the importance for countries to jointly promote peace and stability to achieve development and prosperity.

Northeast Asia has a very broad potential for economic cooperation. As one of the most economically vibrant regions in the world, the region possesses a variety of elements for extensive development, such as technology, various markets, labor, and natural resources. Countries in Northeast Asia have their own advantages, which could complement each other.

Although Northeast Asia already participates in bilateral and sub-regional cooperation, it still has much room for furthering cooperation and exploring opportunities.

In comparison to Southeast Asia, the overall economic strength of Northeast Asia has overwhelming advantages, but the level of regional cooperation is not as high as Southeast Asia. There are several different reasons as to why this is true. The Korean Peninsula issue, also known as the “living fossil” of the Cold War, is still lingering on. Northeast Asia is also the area that the US has chosen to carry out its geopolitical games. Additionally, other issues, such as the difference in value, territorial issues, marine demarcation, and disputes left over from WWII, have hindered economic integration of the region.

Thankfully, there seems to be a sea change for cooperation that will favor Northeast Asia. Although there are big economic powers in the area, they are countries that maintain relatively rational strategic restraint and keep a distance from the concept of “expansion.”

Most bilateral relations in Northeast Asia are on the right track of improvement. Specifically, the improvement of China-Japan relationship will certainly influence the overall atmosphere of the region. Additionally, the tension of the Korea Peninsula has been greatly eased, thanks to the recent summits.

The political consensus for strengthening regional cooperation is happening at a slow, but steady pace. After previously experiencing various conflicts, the region has shifted to more political sobriety. All countries in the region now share a strong desire to adhere to common development and prosperity. They do not want to face disputes in a confrontational manner, and all of them oppose trade protectionism and unilateralism.

The biggest force that has hindered cooperation in Northeast Asia comes from outside factors. The US treats Japan and South Korea as allies and is known for its hostile position against North Korea. The US also views China and Russia as strategic opponents. Furthermore, its complicated relationships and conditions intervene with regional affairs. The US meddling in Northeast Asia’s affairs is the biggest challenge for the region’s multilateral cooperation plans.

It would be wrong if we still blame the inability to institutionalize the concept of the Northeast Asian Economic Circle, which was proposed in the 1980s, on all external forces. There are several successful examples of bilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia and multilateral cooperation has also made progress in the area, which has also overcome many obstacles like the difference in scale of nations and ideologies. There are possibilities for more multilateral cooperation to either overcome or avoid these obstacles for further progression.

Although the multilateral regions and subregions in Northeast Asia may need more courageous attempts for cooperation, each step forward will increase confidence and mutual trust, gradually forming a “snowball” effect and changing the overall landscape of regional cooperation.  Once the situation is formed, it will in turn contribute new thrust to solving political problems in the region.

Russia’s Far East region is an important part of Northeast Asia, and its resource advantages provide an irreplaceable guarantee for future prosperity in the region. Through deep integration into the construction of the Northeast Asian Economic Circle, the Far East region is likely to become Russia’s new economic growth epicenter.

Xi’s words clearly demonstrate Beijing’s goodwill and sincerity in promoting cooperation in the Northeast Asia region. China’s increasing market size and development momentum will surely provide energy for cooperation in the area and brighten the future of Northeast Asia.