The establishment of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS) marks a milestone for China–Japan–South Korea trilateral cooperation in 2011. This article investigates the TCS’s foundation, structure, and policy influence within the broader context of trilateral cooperation. On one hand, the secretariat acts in many aspects as more than just a ‘secretariat’. It carries a wide range of mandates and is equipped with the potential for action. On the other hand, this study finds that the secretariat has not been developed to be a ‘strong’ and ‘good’ office. The TCS is granted limited autonomy, and has not developed a full-blown ‘independent character’. Its policy contribution has not yet extended to more targeted fields of functional cooperation. Furthermore, its exercise of agenda-setting remains limited as the TCS largely take their cue from the three governments. This study puts forward specific recommendations for the secretariat building in terms of institutional reform and capacity building.

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