Regional integration tops Eastern Economic Forum agenda

By Chen Qingqing in Vladivostok

Leaders of China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia called for regional integration and cooperation on Wednesday to confront escalated trade frictions and rising protectionism.

The international situation is now undergoing profound and complicated changes with rising power politics, unilateralism and protectionism, Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) on Wednesday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Chinese president also called on the regional countries to explore new models for coordinated development in Northeast Asia, speed up scientific and technological innovation, foster a resource-saving and environmentally friendly industrial pattern and way of life, and jointly tackle the regional environmental issues that all countries are facing.

The global economy is facing rising protectionism and the fundamental principles of trade and competition have been jeopardized, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during the plenary session of the forum.

To maintain regional economic growth, countries in the region should abandon ideological bias and adopt reciprocal approaches, Putin said.

Northeast Asian countries are facing a rising threat in trade frictions with the US. US President Donald Trump recently told US media that the threat of auto tariffs is back on the agenda and Japan could become the No.1 target.

During the forum, government officials and business representatives from South Korea, Japan, Russia and China discussed the possibility of enhancing connectivity and collaboration in the region to counterbalance the rising unilateral stance adopted by Trump.

“In other regions like the Middle East, we have already made great cooperation with Chinese companies,” Teruo Asada, chairman of the Japan-Russia business cooperation committee, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The same kind of cooperation will be expected in infrastructure in the region as in sectors such as energy and transport, he noted.

China is willing to push forward multilateral and subregional cooperation, as China-Japan-South Korea and China-Russia-Mongolia collaboration have yielded positive outcomes, Xi noted at the forum.

Regional tie-ups highlighted

Northeast Asia is likely to become a region with an explosive mixture of conflicts including the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and a series of territorial and historical problems or disputes among China, Japan, the two Koreas as well as Russia, according to a report published by German research foundation Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung in January.

However, trade and investment activities have been dynamic between major economies in the region, the report noted.

The total GDP volume of Northeast Asia accounts for 19 percent of the global economy, and a peaceful, and stable Northeast Asia of mutual trust meets the interests and expectations of the global community, Xi noted.

Facing hefty US tariffs on Northeast Asian countries, China, Japan and South Korea should accelerate free trade talks and reach an agreement as soon as possible which will be a major way of boosting regional development and tackling trade obstacles, said Wang Xianju, a research fellow at the Euro-Asian Social Development Research Institute of the Development Research Center of the State Council in Beijing.

“The construction of oil and natural gas pipelines between Russia, South Korea and North Korea should also start in a short time,” he said.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon also expressed his country’s interest in boosting regional integration through the establishment of a railway community.

Regional cooperation “is the future trend,” said Xiao Yaqing, chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.

Countries in the region are seeking more opportunities and looking into potential projects which will boost overall growth of Northeast Asia, he noted.

Lingering uncertainties

For some business representatives, regional cooperation in Northeast Asia still faces challenges.

“A major challenge is the lack of financing for infrastructure mega projects,” said Asada, chairman of the Japan-Russia business cooperation committee.

But Wang Xianju told the Global Times that South Korea and Japan’s economic dependence on the US will likely add more obstacles for further cooperation among countries in the region.

“Washington is not willing to see the establishment of a Northeast Asia economic circle, which would be a significant rival,” Wang said.

The region could learn from the experiences of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Wang noted on Wednesday.

Originally Posted on Global Times, China

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