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Asia’s Threesome Turns Four

SEOUL – Like many regions of the world, Northeast Asia faces severe political challenges in creating a viable structure of peace. But, given China’s rising power, such a regional structure is becoming all the more necessary if today’s lack of trust is not to devolve into military antagonism.

Relations among the region’s three major powers, China, South Korea, and Japan, are burdened both by territorial disputes and by the bitter historical legacies of Japanese colonialism. Of course, economic interdependence has deepened over the past three decades, but nationalism remains a convenient tool for political mobilization – and of manipulation for domestic and diplomatic purposes.

Moreover, although the Cold War is two decades in the past, South Korea and China remain divided nations. Furthermore, North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, its economic fragility, and uncertainty about its very future as a state, are causes of deep anxiety among its neighbors.

Yet, despite all of these obstacles, there are signs that momentum is building for greater regional cooperation in overcoming them. The recent trilateral summit of China, South Korea, and Japan is the fourth such meeting to be held, in addition to meetings that take place at international gatherings such as the ASEAN summits.