On the Record

Trilateral Conference Summary

Jeffrey A. Bader

A year ago, two American think tanks – The Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies – suggested to Peking University and the Keizai Koho Center that we organize a Japan-China-U.S. trilateral dialogue among scholars and former Government officials. We did so because we were concerned about the deterioration in relations between Japan and China, and were alarmed over the anti-Japanese demonstrations in a number of Chinese cities last spring.

As Americans, we felt that we could play a role in diminishing mistrust and tensions between Japan and China, which seemed at a point in their relations where direct contacts were problematic and awkward. We did so not out of a sense of charity or altruism, but because we thought diminution of tensions between Japan and China was important to Japan, to China, and to the United States. It is impossible to conceive of a stable Asia in the 21st century if the relationship between Japan and China is hostile. For its part, the United States sees its security relationship with Japan as a linchpin of stability in Asia, but at the same time wants a positive relationship with an emerging China. We see no contradiction between these two goals; indeed we believe that a positive relationship between Japan and China is essential to securing them.

When we proposed the idea of a trilateral meeting, we did not know how Japanese and Chinese scholars would react. To our pleasure, both sides quickly welcomed the initiative. We each checked with our respective governments, which gave us encouragement to pursue a trilateral dialogue. We held the first round of our dialogue in July 2005 at Peking University. The wariness and uncertainty we felt at the outset dissipated as the three delegations interacted with candor but with respect. We were received by China’s Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing, who expressed his satisfaction with our trilateral dialogue. We agreed to hold a second round in Japan, which took place on May 21 and 22 at the Keidanren Gotemba Guest House.

I am pleased to report that our second round was, in the opinion of all the participants, highly successful. We talked frankly, but respectfully, about most of the difficult issues in our three-way relationship – attitudes in Japan and China toward each other, security issues such as the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, Taiwan, differing interpretations of history, territorial disputes and frictions in the East China Sea, Japan’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, concerns over military spending and transparency, mutual suspicions between Japan and China, and questions by some about the future of the American role in the Pacific. But we also talked about ways to bridge the gap between Japan and China and possible areas of cooperation on issues such as energy, the environment, regional multilateral institutions, nonproliferation, and ways to avoid accidental military incidents.

We have decided to hold a third round of trilateral talks on a date to be determined, probably later this year. It is the conviction of participants at this conference that the trilateral relationship among Japan, China, and the U.S. is the key to the stability and prosperity of East Asia in the 21st century, and we are trying through this process to make our modest contribution to getting this fundamental relationship right. After our next round, we expect to issue a report with recommendations for our respective governments. We hope that our recommendations make a positive contribution to thinking in our three countries on specific ways to improve the three-way relationship. But at least as important as our specific recommendations is our hope to impress upon our governments and our peoples the priority of stabilizing and strengthening the relationship among our three countries.

I want to express our appreciation for the extraordinary reception our three delegations have received from the Japanese Government. We have met with Foreign Minister Aso, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda, LDP Secretary-General Takebe, METI Minister Nikai, and Senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Shiozaki. We have additional meetings scheduled later today with Seiji Maehara and Shinzo Abe. In all our meetings we have heard expressions of strong support for our trilateral process and its objectives, which will encourage us to redouble our efforts to produce results.

Finally, I want to express my admiration and appreciation for my gifted co-Chairmen at the conference, Ambassador Koji Watanabe, Professor Wang Jisi, and Dr. Kurt Campbell. And on behalf of all three of our delegations I want as well to express our gratitude to the Keizai Koho Center, to KKC’s Managing Director and Secretary General Tadashi Hayashi, and to his staff for their exceptional hospitality and arrangements for our conference.

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