Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Sunday that China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have agreed to launch talks on a free trade area (FTA) this year.
Wen made the remarks at a press briefing after a trilateral leaders' meeting attended by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and ROK President Lee Myung-bak.
Calling the agreement "an important strategic decision," Wen said the three nations should make concerted efforts for the early establishment of the FTA.
The establishment of the FTA will greatly stimulate the regional economy and the integration of the regional economy, he said, calling for closer cooperation and communication for early start of FTA talks.
China, Japan and the ROK are generally far more "complementary than competitive," Wen said, adding the three nations should maintain open and transparent, and care for each other's difficulties and concerns so to achieve mutual benefit and win-win.
Saying it is very important for the three countries to work out trade rules, Noda said at the press briefing that Japan stands ready to further cooperation with China and the ROK.
After the press briefing, the leaders attended the 4th China-Japan-ROK Business Summit, which groups almost 200 people from business and governmental circles.
While addressing the business summit, Wen said an FTA will help the three countries make use of their comparative advantages, jointly tap markets, promote robust, sustainable and balanced economic growth and boost Northeast Asia's economic development.
Earlier Sunday morning, the three nations also clinched a deal to promote, facilitate and protect investment.
Wen said the investment accord -- a significant milestone -- will serve as the first important legal document on trilateral cooperation in the economic field.
Wen said the three nations have promised to seriously implement the deal, so as to "create a stable, fair and transparent environment for expanding mutual investment among the three countries and further deepen economic integration."
China welcomes more investment from Japan and the ROK, and also hopes they can become destinations for Chinese investment, he said.
All three are big countries in terms of production and trade, with production totalling over 15 trillion U.S. dollars, Wen said, adding that the three countries face "huge potential" in enhancing investment cooperation.
After the signing of the investment accord, Lee said the ROK's investment to China will increase.
It seemed a bit late for the three countries to ink the accord, considering they have frequent exchanges and contacts, he said.
Meanwhile, the three nations agreed to deepen fiscal and financial cooperation and promote the development of Asian bond markets.
The three countries will also expand cooperation in the field of sustainable development while accelerating the construction of pilot bases for the recycling economy, Wen said.
China has proposed setting up a pilot zone for economic cooperation at local level between the three countries in its eastern Shandong Province, which is located near the ROK and Japan and, thus, has a geographical advantage, Wen said.
It is suggested that bases for trilateral industrial cooperation should be established in Japan and the ROK, Wen said.
"After 13 years of unremitting efforts, China-Japan-ROK cooperation stands at a new starting point in history," said Wen.
Trade and economic ties were highlighted at the meeting, as China-Japan-ROK trade has seen rapid growth in recent years.
Trilateral trade had more than quadrupled from 130 billion U.S. dollars in 1999 to 690 billion U.S. dollars in 2011. China has topped the trading partners lists of Japan and the ROK for many years, while Japan and the ROK rank fourth and sixth among China's trading partners, respectively.
At the end of 2002, China, Japan and the ROK agreed to start the FTA feasibility study. In May 2010, the joint study on the FTA was officially launched, and the joint study group completed its work in December 2011.
Trade ministers of the three nations met in Beijing Saturday to finalize a trilateral investment accord and push FTA negotiations up on each country's agenda.