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SKOREA, CHINA, JAPAN SHOW UNITY AT FIRST SUMMIT

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on December 14, 2008

Published: Dec 13, 2008 06:00 AM – Modified: Dec 13, 2008 07:06 AM

by Eric Talmadge – Associated Press Writer

PUBLISHED BY ‘THE NEWS&OBSERVER’ (USA)

FUKUOKA, Japan – The leaders of Japan, China and South Korea said Saturday that Asia must be the engine of growth to counter Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso, center, delivers a speech as Lee Myung-bak, South Korea's president, sitting right, Wen Jiabao, China's premier, sitting left, isten at the start of dinner after their meeting at the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, southern Japan, on Saturday, December 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Tomohiro Ohsumi, POOL)global financial turmoil and vowed to rev up their economies with infrastructure projects and bolster domestic demand.

Tokyo and Seoul also criticized North Korea for stalling denuclearization talks.

The Asian nations – which together make up 75 percent of the east Asian economy – were holding their first-ever three-way summit, with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attending.

The global financial slowdown was atop their agenda.

“The current financial crisis continues to spread,” Wen said at a joint news conference. “We are important economic players in Asia and the world, and we must strive to respond to this once-in-a-century crisis.”

In a joint statement, the leaders said they believed Asia must be a center of growth to counter the sliding world economy. They said they would push domestic demand and infrastructure projects while refraining from raising new barriers to investment or trade over the next 12 months.

“The three leaders shared the view that efforts need to be strengthened to minimize the negative impacts that the current financial turmoil could have on the world economy,” the statement said. “Asian countries are expected to play a role as the center of world economic growth.”

Meeting ahead of the summit, Aso and Lee welcomed a deal reached the night before to increase a bilateral currency swap arrangement to the equivalent of $20 billion. The Bank of Korea also announced a deal with the People’s Bank of China worth about $26 billion.

“This is very meaningful,” Lee said of the currency swap arrangement. “We translated cooperation into action.”

Swaps generally entail one central bank borrowing a currency from another and offering an equivalent amount of its own as collateral.

Seoul has seen its own currency reserves dwindle and feared that without the swap arrangements it could suffer a foreign exchange crisis because of the global financial turmoil. The South Korean won has declined 32 percent this year amid record selling of South Korean stocks by foreign investors.

Aso and Lee also criticized North Korea for its lack of cooperation at nuclear disarmament talks and stressed the importance of continuing to push together for progress.

Four days of negotiations in Beijing ended in stalemate Thursday with North Korea refusing to put into writing any commitments on inspection, making it impossible to move forward on a disarmament-for-aid agreement reached last year.

“We have made progress but it has been slow,” Lee said. “We must have patience and hope.”

The three leaders said they planned to make the trilateral summit an annual event and strengthen ties through increased political and cultural exchanges.

“Politically and economically, we have a very significant presence in the region,” Aso said. “We should have had this kind of a summit sooner.”

Though their countries are often at odds over the legacy of Japan’s militarist past, solidarity was the word of the day.

Officials said the summit was intended to be a show of unity in the face of the global economic downturn and was an important step toward better relations overall between the three neighbors.

Left off the table was lingering animosity over Japan’s pre-1945 colonization of Korea and its often brutal aggression on the Asian mainland in the first half of the last century. Such issues have frequently flared up in the past and continue to be a thorn in relations.

Japanese officials said it was “significant” that the three countries were putting such issues behind them and trying to approach the summit with a more forward-looking stance.

Other sensitive issues remain, however.

In a meeting with Wen, Aso expressed concern over the entry of Chinese vessels earlier this week into waters Tokyo claims near disputed southern islands known as the Senkaku in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.

Japan lodged a protest with Beijing on Monday after the ships spent nine hours near the islands, which are claimed by Japan, China and Taiwan.

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PUBLISHED BY ‘THE NEWS&OBSERVER’ (USA)

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