Getting China and Japan to shake hands: The Trilateral Summit and Regionalism.

Updated On: Dec 20, 2005

China called off a three-way meeting among the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean prime ministers in Kuala Lumpur even though the trilateral meeting has been held every year since 1999 along with the ASEAN summit.

The cancellation comes on the heels of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine which contains the ashes of war dead including 14 convicted war criminals. Koizumi defended his decision at the East Asia Summit and said that he visited the shrine to reiterate his conviction that there should not be more wars and not to glorify war and to pray for peace and respect for others. Koizumi reiterated that he lives in a pacifist country and renew his country’s pledge not to wage war.

The cancellation of the trilateral summit may have implications for the region,.  From ASEAN’s point of view (both military and economically), they have to deal with the simultaneous presence of two increasingly assertive regional powers, a Japan that is still the world’s second largest economy and increasingly muscular militarily and a China that is becoming a formidable economic force on top of being the traditional nuclear power in East Asia .

The impasse between China, South Korea and Japan fomented criticisms that a gathering of East Asian nations had turn out to be dysfunctional due to quarrels over war memories. On 19th Dec 2005, a commentary in the New Straits Times (NST) commented that China’s preoccupation with history and a contestation for the restoration of face might have lessened its leadership capacity in the EAS and revealed a weakness in letting its reputation overtake more crucial multilateral issues. It posed the question: “If modern Chinacan’t overcome hurtful feelings towards Japanover a war that ended 60 years ago, how will it steer a modern Asian bloc?”

Despite the cancellation of the trilateral summit of the three Northeast Asian powers, ASEAN still managed to bring the three together in the same room. The end of the summit saw a small tiny gesture of diplomacy with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao lending his brush pen to Koizumi followed by a brief handshake, both actions drew applause from onlookers.  However, what can ASEAN do to bridge the real gap between China and Japan is still to be seen.