Challenge and chance at this critical time of pandemic


State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a videoconference on March 20 with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi and Republic of Korea counterpart Kang Keung-wha in which they agreed that the three neighbors should cooperate over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The three neighboring states in East Asia share growing concerns about infected people arriving from overseas, albeit the emergence of new cases in the three countries is at a much slower pace than those in Europe and the United States.
Although the outbreak is a severe challenge, it has also brought opportunities for greater East Asian integration.
There were several key takeaways from the videoconference. One was about the urgency of East Asian cooperation, namely maintaining the necessary cross-border flows for economic and trade cooperation. Other takeaways include achieving a higher political consensus, enhancing friendship among the three peoples, and establishing a multilateral coordination mechanism, including a health ministers’ conference.
Closer cooperation among the three countries is imperative, since it will help the region maintain social, economic and financial stability, while keeping the virus under control.
China, Japan and the ROK have been working together and supporting each other since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Among the first to offer support to China when the public health crisis was deepening in Hubei province, Japan and the ROK acted compassionately and responsibly.
In return, it is imperative for China to share its anti-virus experiences and data, and cooperate on further prevention measures, and promote regional and global solidarity. Due to geographical proximity, demographic similarity, culture and customs affinity, economic interdependence, and high level of urbanization, communicating and implementing counter-virus measures between China, Japan and the ROK can be very efficient.
The three countries have deeply complementary economies. The volume of trade among the three countries rose from $130 billion in 1999 to $720 billion in 2018. No one can be safe until everyone is safe under the current circumstances. The economic fundamentals of the three countries are weakened by the “black swan” of the outbreak, which has led to the dramatic declines of financial markets worldwide. The disruption of the supply chain as the first shock wave and the plunge in general demand as the second call for a collaborative and comprehensive response from the three countries to forestall systemic deterioration and long-term damage.
The three countries’ high degree of economic interdependency requires a cooperation plan to balance prevention and control of the virus with trade exchanges to ensure a robust post-outbreak recovery. Coordinated supply chain re-ignition, proper consumption stimuli and synchronized financial support are all necessary for the three countries to address once the pandemic situation eases in the three countries. Maintaining the necessary cross-border flows is essential for economic and trade cooperation, which requires a softening of travel restrictions.
For China-Japan-ROK cooperation to be effective, a higher political consensus based on a diplomatic détente must be achieved.
The Asian neighbors have traveled a bumpy path in recent years. Despite having a yearlong dispute over the legacy of World War II, Seoul and Tokyo have also had a spat over travel restrictions. For China and Japan, the historical issues that remain unresolved, have heightened diplomatic tensions for years. At the same time, the ROK’s acceptance of the US-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system soured relations between China and the ROK. The novel coronavirus pandemic provides an opportunity for the three countries to put aside their disagreements and work on a future-oriented security framework for the region.
Easing public anxiety and having a positive mutual public opinion are the basis for closer China-Japan-ROK cooperation.
Before the outbreak, public opinion in the three countries was quite negative toward each other. According to a Pew study in December 2019, despite the large number of Chinese visitors to Japan, 85 percent of Japanese people view China negatively. The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus in China sparked panic in the ROK, more than 750,000 people signed an online petition calling for a ban on Chinese visitors.
Non-governmental organizations, charitable bodies and businesses in the three countries have taken actions to provide aid, donations, medical and moral support. These people-to-people goodwill gestures are very helpful in building mutual trust across borders and translating public opinion to more support for regional integration.
A multilateral platform and coordination mechanism are essential for effective regional cooperation.
In the field of public health, the three countries already have certain mechanisms and experiences of cooperation. They have signed a joint action plan on infectious disease defense, coordinated actions during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Ebola outbreaks, and responded jointly to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
They also set up several preliminary multilateral platforms, including the China-Japan-ROK health ministers’ conference, the China-Japan-ROK forum on infectious disease, the China-Japan-ROK Centers for Disease Control and Prevention directors’ meeting. These cooperation platforms could help the three countries share experiences in epidemic prevention and control, medical treatment, vaccines, drug research and development.
–The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item