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Fukushima brings together Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing

RIA Novosti, Dmitry Kosyrev, PUBLISHED May 25, 2011

A recent summit in Tokyo among the three great Asian powers - Japan, South Korea and China - showed that Asia cannot be split into pro-China and anti-China camps because of economic and other realities, including Mother Nature herself.

As the G8 prepares for its upcoming annual summit in Deauville, France, its prospects are very much in question. The same cannot be said for the "GA" (Group of Asia), as I call it. This is the fourth such summit attended by Japan, China and South Korea, and by far the most productive.

Over a century of animosity

Some commentators like to use arithmetic to compare various international organizations. If we add up the annual GDP of China (the world's second largest economy), Japan (the third largest economy) and South Korea (whose GDP is nothing to sneeze at) and compare the sum to the GDPs of the G8, which also includes Japan...nothing will happen. This is a senseless exercise because regional and international organizations are not created to flex muscles - economic or otherwise.

The GA is merely a top-level forum for discussing and regulating the ongoing formation of a common economic space in this part of the world. ASEAN performs a similar function in Southeast Asia. The purpose of these organizations is completely clear. The G8, meanwhile, appears no longer to serve a purpose.

But the GA is a special case. There are few organizations in the world where the members have such long-standing animosity toward one another. For example, while Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak have agreed on new plans for cooperation, two opposition members of parliament in South Korea announced their intention to visit Kunashir on May 24. Kunashir is one of Russia's South Kurile Islands, which Japan claims as its own. Japan also claims several South Korean islands, which explains the hostile gesture by South Korean legislators.

Both Koreans and Chinese bear grudges toward the Japanese dating back to the 19th century, when Japan occupied Korea and then seized several Chinese territories. Japan lost its colonial empire after WWII, and unlike in Europe, there is still a great deal of hostility toward former occupiers. In this context, the GA is an attempt to create some kind of forum for political dialogue, notwithstanding the mutual hostility.

However, Fukushima has done more than anything to bring these countries together. This was the focus of the unusually successful summit in Tokyo.

Make a smile

The summit produced several coordinated nuclear safety programs.

Most importantly, China agreed at the summit to lift some restrictions on imports of food from Japan. Now the restrictions apply to just 10 Japanese prefectures.

The Japanese have been taken aback by the irrational fear of radiation exhibited by their seemingly close friends. This has resulted in diminished tourism as well as bans on food imported from Japan, to name just a few effects.

Now the Chinese and Korean leaders have visited areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, including the destroyed city of Natori and the gym where victims found a shelter. One of the homeless women asked the Chinese prime minister to smile. He did, and he also made a show of eating some vegetables from the prefectures close to the disaster area. China will now allow food imports from this and other areas near Fukushima.

Japan is constantly revising its estimate of the damage inflicted by the recent disaster. Current estimates call for $200 billion to restore the destroyed prefectures. China and South Korea are not necessarily ready to open their wallets for Japan, although China already provided several million dollars to Japan immediately after the disaster. The mechanism of Japan's economic revival is more important here. Obviously, Japan won't make it without help from its neighbors, especially China.

This is the most important result of the GA's recent summit. Economic integration and revival go hand in hand. After Fukushima, these three countries will be closer than they were before. After all, a nation always benefits from the prosperity of its neighbors. What's more, the countries have no choice but to bridge the gap.

China suffered an even worse earthquake in the Sichuan Province in 2008, with a death toll of up to 70,000. Japan helped China in its time of need.

Incidentally, there have been no scandals between Tokyo and Beijing of late.

In the United States, the Obama administration has decided to shift the policy toward China inherited from the Bush administration. The idea was to take a tougher line towards China by reviving anti-Chinese cooperation with Japan and South Korea. It was impossible to imagine at the time that these plans would be thwarted by an earthquake and tsunami, but stranger things have happened.

Topics: NPP Fukushima Daiichi, Asia, Japan, South Korea, China

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