Keeping to the Right Direction and Working Together to Revitalize Asia

—Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation 2023

Wang Yi

It is my great pleasure to come to Qingdao and attend the opening ceremony of the International Forum for Trilateral Cooperation, the first time that the forum is held in-person since COVID-19. At the outset, I wish to extend warm congratulations on the opening of the forum and express heartfelt appreciation to you and to all those dedicated to the trilateral cooperation.
Our theme this year, “Revitalizing Trilateral Cooperation in the Post-COVID Era”, is highly fitting. During the three years of the pandemic, the people of our three countries stood in solidarity. Stories abound of our mutual assistance in times of difficulty, showcasing our close bonds as neighbors. After a storm, there will be sunshine. Now is the time for the three countries to seize opportunities and press ahead hand in hand, to deliver more benefits to our people and those in the wider region, and make greater contributions to a prosperous Asia. 
Two decades ago in our first Joint Declaration, we agreed that this cooperation is “aimed at boosting development, strengthening East Asian cooperation and safeguarding peace and prosperity at the regional and global levels”. This is why we initiated the trilateral cooperation, and this is the mission we share. Staying true to the founding mission over the past two decades and more, the trilateral cooperation has developed from ground zero to the current stature—the most influential sub-regional cooperation mechanism in Asia, injecting important energy into the modernization of our three countries and the region as a whole.
However, challenges arose in recent years as a certain major country from outside the region, driven by its selfish geopolitical agenda, kept hyping up ideological differences and putting together various kinds of exclusive circles. Instead of cooperation and unity, it pushes for confrontation and antagonism. Such proclivities, if unchecked, will hinder the trilateral cooperation and escalate tensions in our region.
Asia is our common home and our three countries are inseparable, close neighbors. At this crossroads, we need to maintain strategic focus, be clear-eyed about the trend of the times, and learn from history. We must firmly keep the trilateral cooperation in the right direction:
We need to stay committed to mutual respect and harmonious co-existence. Cherishing peace and seeking harmony without uniformity is our common value nurtured over thousands of years of exchange. The harsh lessons of history in modern times, a period plagued by wars of aggression and colonial rule, only reinforced our peoples’ appreciation of peace. Over the past decades, our three countries have achieved continued growth and advanced modernization. The key lies in our commitment to peaceful development, our respect for each other’s core interests and our understanding of each other’s choice of development path.
China follows a time-honored tradition of good neighborliness. We would never repeat the path of expansion and plunder that some major countries once took, and we oppose any unilateral, bullying act by any country. The Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative put forward by President Xi Jinping are China’s answers to closing the deficit in global development, peace, trust and governance. China will continue to pursue peaceful development to contribute to lasting peace in the region and the world.
We need to stay committed to openness and inclusiveness and help each other succeed. Our three countries are all beneficiaries of economic globalization. After the Second World War, Japan and the ROK seized the momentum of economic globalization and entered a fast track of development. Over the past 40 years and more, China, through reform and opening-up, has been developing at a faster speed. It is now the world’s second largest economy and is on a new journey of building a modern socialist country.
The three countries are in a relationship of interdependence and mutual benefit. We need to see each other as partners, demonstrate a global vision, and truly view others’ development as opportunities for oneself. China will continue to promote opening-up at a higher level. We welcome Japan and the ROK to get on-board China’s fast train of high-quality development. Together, we can usher in an even better future for our three countries and our region.
We need to stay committed to independence and seek strength through unity. Facts have shown that only a country with independence can have more initiative and win international respect. And only a region that stands united and strong can achieve continuous development free from external interference.
China will keep to its independent foreign policy of peace. We will continue to make our own assessment based on the merits of issues, and work for harmony and shared progress with countries in the region, including Japan and the ROK. We respect Japan and the ROK in growing relations with other countries in the world, but no relationship should be used to contain or even encircle a close neighbor.
It is important that our three countries and all other countries in Asia practice open regionalism, champion the Asian values of inclusiveness, grow an awareness of strategic autonomy and maintain regional solidarity and stability. We must resist the resurgence of the Cold-War mentality and coercion by hegemonism and bullying. Our own future and that of our region should be held in our own hands.
The world today is undergoing major changes unseen in a century. Asia is at an important juncture where modernity is transforming traditional societies. For thousands of years in history, Asia made splendid achievements. After a tough transition in modern times, it has again embarked on a bright path toward revitalization.
This is where we stand in the trajectory of history. This is the underlying trend we must grasp. More importantly, this is what the times ask of us. Our three countries are all important economies in the world. Together we take up one-fifth of the global population and over one-fourth of global GDP. Only by working in unity can we preserve Asia’s peace, promote Asia’s prosperity and achieve Asia’s revitalization.
To this end, I would like to propose the following.  
First, we need to enhance mutual trust and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability. We should unequivocally commit to true multilateralism and open regionalism, reject all words and deeds that threaten to embroil our region in a cold or hot war, and oppose bringing geopolitical conflicts and camp-based confrontation to the region. Our three countries should strengthen communication and exchange, foster the atmosphere and build consensus for the early resumption of the trilateral summit and meetings of foreign ministers and senior officials, and inject more positive energy into regional cooperation.
We need to unequivocally uphold the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, safeguard all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, take seriously the legitimate security concerns of all countries, and properly resolve differences and disputes through dialogue and consultation. On historical issues, the Taiwan question and other major issues of principle bearing on the foundation of bilateral relations, it is all the more important to honor one’s commitment and strictly abide by the four political documents between China and Japan and the spirit of the joint communiqué on establishing diplomatic relations between China and the ROK. There should be no ambiguity, still less wavering or backtracking, in the slightest way.
Second, we need to enhance mutual benefit and jointly develop more drivers of growth. We should categorically oppose decoupling or severing supply chains under whatever pretext, protect the regional industrial system in which we complement one another, and afford our businesses a favorable environment and stable expectations. We should continue to advance the “Trilateral+X” format, and consider joint programs in areas such as production capacity, poverty alleviation, health and disaster management, so that the trilateral cooperation will benefit other countries and regions. We need to seize the opportunities of the new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, and step up cooperation on such emerging sectors as electric vehicles, digitization and artificial intelligence, to jointly upgrade industries, build new centers of technology and give fresh impetus to growth.   
Third, we need to enhance connectivity and jointly boost regional economic integration. We need to accelerate China-Japan-ROK FTA negotiations for greater trade liberalization and facilitation and a stronger role in driving growth in East Asia. We should take the lead in implementing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and continuously unleash its benefits to promote regional economic integration. We should support the building of the ASEAN Community, step up coordination and collaboration in ASEAN Plus Three, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia Cooperation Dialogue and other regional cooperation mechanisms, and play a positive role in building an East Asian community.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by President Xi Jinping. China stands ready to conduct concrete cooperation with Japan and the ROK to enhance our connectivity in policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people exchange, and jointly pursue high-quality BRI cooperation.   
Fourth, we need to enhance mutual assistance and jointly meet common challenges. We should share information and experience, coordinate our policies and advance practical cooperation on how to prevent and control sandstorms, manage the seas, regulate immigration and fight cross-border crimes. We need to deepen cooperation on finance, agriculture and clean energy to prevent financial risks and food and energy crises and make development in our region more resilient. It would also be helpful to jointly study and share findings on challenging issues such as aging and low birth rate. Discharging nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean concerns the marine ecological environment and public health and safety. It must be handled prudently with deep coordination with neighboring countries and the international community.
Fifth, we need to enhance mutual learning and jointly foster goodwill between our societies. We need to build an enabling environment for people-to-people exchange, encourage our media, think tanks, social organizations, and especially the young people, to interact with each other, so that our peoples will enjoy greater affinity in addition to geographical proximity. The media have the responsibility to foster a good environment for our peoples to form friendly perceptions about each other. They must not sit idly by and allow disharmony and unfriendliness to spread and undermine the popular support and social foundation for our cooperation.
I wish to note in particular that sub-national exchange holds great potential for the trilateral cooperation. My colleagues in Qingdao told me that the city established its sister city relationship with Shimonoseki of Japan in as early as October 1979, which was the first of its kind for Qingdao and even for the whole Shandong Province. Today the province has 19 sister cities in Japan and 29 in the ROK. Japan and the ROK are important trade partners of Shandong. Investment from both countries in Shandong saw a notable increase in recent years. I am confident that such cooperation will reach a new level after the forum.   
Last year, the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat launched its first China-Japan-ROK Word of the Year campaign, polling the people about the Chinese characters that best capture the spirit of the three countries in 2023. The winner was “Hehe”, meaning peace, harmony, amity and cooperation. This is the voice of our people and the right direction for our relations.
Let us see clearly where we are today and where we should be headed in the long run, stay committed to good neighborliness and cooperation, and proceed steadily along this way. Together, we can find a win-win path for shared progress and enduring peace, and contribute East Asian wisdom and energy to the rise of Asia and world peace.

Wang Yi is Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Minister of Foreign Affairs.