Reassessing the South Korea-China-Japan Trilateral Summits

Griffith, Edward orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8297-2900 (2023) Reassessing the South Korea-China-Japan Trilateral Summits. In: Politics, International Relations and Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula. Routledge, London, pp. 69-85. ISBN 9781003392569

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Korea-China-Japan tripartite cooperation formally began in 1999, with the introduction of supposedly annual leaders’ summits in 2008. The summits stalled a number of times and are widely considered to have achieved little. This chapter considers whether it is correct to characterise these summits as a failure and explores the factors that have hindered further progress. The chapter argues that although the summits might be considered to have been largely a failure by the highest-level criteria applied in International Relations (IR) scholarship, there have been some relatively minor and low-level achievements that have brought tangible benefit within and across the three countries. The reasons for this limited progress are multiple but are centred on the connected issues of the region’s historical hangover and a concomitant absence of trust at the political and societal levels. Nevertheless, the depth of institutionalisation through the process is frequently overlooked and the chapter argues that this depth is cause for optimism. The establishment of the Tripartite Cooperation Secretariat in Seoul combines with almost 100 separate regular dialogue mechanisms including more than 20 at ministerial level to provide a functioning low-level institutionalisation that produces policies and agreements that can make a positive impact on the lives of the peoples in the region. Thus, while the shortcomings of the process as a whole should not be underplayed and the barriers to greater integration remain unaddressed, the wider process of tripartite institutionalisation has actually been more successful than is frequently assumed.

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