Politicians and experts from China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) on Tuesday called for accelerating talks on a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to ease political tensions, as they spoke at a forum aimed at boosting regional cooperation. China, the ROK and Japan should prioritize negotiations over their proposed FTA to benefit regional economic integration, China's former vice premier Zeng Peiyan said. "This will not only help the three countries to weather international economic risks but also alleviate tensions in political and security areas," Zeng said. Zeng put forward the idea during the ninth session of the Northeast Asia Trilateral Forum, a regional platform with political, business and academic experts from the three countries, which kicked off on Tuesday in Yangzhou City of east China's Jiangsu Province. Apart from the FTA, Zeng suggested the three countries strengthen partnerships in energy and environmental protection to increase their say in the international energy market, cooperate more in oil and gas development and set up a regular exchange mechanism between their energy departments. He also urged media organizations to help forge friendly relations between people in China, Japan and the ROK through responsible reporting. Forming a community of common destiny is the way to resolve the current tensions. That means facing up to history, being a responsible partner and having the wisdom to draw common ground, Zeng said in his keynote speech delivered at the forum. Yasuo Fukuda, former Japanese Prime Minister, said that the three Asian heavyweights should ramp up cooperation by speeding up the signing of the FTA to realize liberal exchanges of talents, capital and commodities. Former ROK Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo said that the three nations should get more active in signing the FTA to help tackle the thicket of problems that Asia faces. The idea of a free trade area among China, Japan and ROK was proposed at a leaders' summit in 2002 in a step toward the integration of a northeast Asia economy with lowered tariffs, increased market access and fewer trade barriers. "China, for instance, is still going through urbanization and speeding up its industrialization, creating huge market potential for creating a free trade area," said Xu Hongcai, from the China Center for International Economic Exchanges. According to official statistics, the combined trade volume of the three countries surged to 681.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2013, four times that in 2001. China's exports to Japan and the ROK took up 11.7 percent of the country's total exports last year. Meanwhile, the three economies have reached consensus on the process of lowering tariffs after profound negotiations in terms of commodity trade, service trade and investment since March 2013, and they are proceeding to the next level of negotiations, said Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang. Despite cheering progress, disputes fueled by economic, historical and sovereignty issues remain in the way, underscoring the potential for such concerns to become stumbling blocks that hinder trilateral cooperation, according to officials at the annual forum. "Signs show that political and trade relations between Japan and China, Japan and the ROK are chilling," Zeng said, citing official data. Japan's exports to China and ROK decreased 10 percent and 8 percent respectively in 2013. Meanwhile, Japan's imports from the two countries dipped by 4 percent and 11 percent respectively. A report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences this year showed that the FTA talks between China and Japan have stagnated compared with those between China and the ROK. But officials are not letting regional disputes ruin the future of a free trade area. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the trilateral cooperation and is willing to try to defuse disputes for the sake of peace and stability in Northeast Asia, Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said. The three nations will hold a fifth round of FTA talks, and experts are calling on a variety of departments in the three countries to push for some progress, said Long Yongtu, China's former chief negotiator for WTO entry. Dai Xianglong, former central bank governor of China, said that trade is a market-guided act that brings mutual benefits, and that FTA talks should not be stalled in spite of problems in the relationships among the three countries. The forum, co-sponsored by China's Xinhua News Agency, Japan's Nikkei news group and the ROK's JoongAng Ilbo, has been held alternately in the three countries since 2006.