China has US in mind in seeking Korea FTA
By Chung Min-uck
China is more active in initiating the negotiations of the Korea-China free trade agreement (FTA) than Korea in order to prevent the United States from increasing its presence on the Korean peninsula, experts say.
The two sides Wednesday declared a start of the free trade negotiations, with the first round expected to take place this month.
“There are other reasons besides economic gains in pursuing free trade accords with other countries, especially in the case of China,” said Kim Young-gui, a senior researcher of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP). “China has used trade agreements strategically. Its urge for the negotiation of Korea-China FTA partly aims to check on U.S.’ influence on the peninsula.”
Experts say Beijing, the world’s No.2 economic power, tends to think of bilateral economic deals with a wider perspective, taking into account the political and security gains that are attached to free trade deals.
China had already made economic deals with nations which are significant in terms of security.
The Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed with Taiwan in 2010 is considered as a means to suppress separate independence movements by Taiwan and increase economic reliance on the mainland.
Beijing’s signing of the cross-strait Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between Hong Kong and Macau, and the free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also known as ASEAN, while creating economic opportunities for both sides, helped erase the “China Threat” thereby improving relations in the region.
According to a ministry official, Wednesday’s announcement came amid China’s acceptance of Korea’s request for carrying out the negotiation in two stages. In the first stage they are to designate vulnerable sectors that need government protection.
Seoul considers its agriculture and fisheries sectors to be sensitive.
Meanwhile, China’s Commerce Minister Chen expressed hope that the negotiation be completed within two years while Trade Minister Bark Tae-ho reportedly said that no agreement had been reached on a deadline for the negotiations.
“It is true that China was more active in pursuing the deal. I guess it will go on until the pact comes into effect. One of the reasons is accountable to the U.S.’ move in Asia,” said Kim.
The Obama administration has lately showed great interest in the Asian pacific region calling it the future of the U.S. which includes military build-up and the strengthening of alliances throughout the area including the proposal of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact. The FTA between the U.S. and Korea also came into effect in March.
The moves unnerved China, experts say. Against the backdrop, China and Russia last month conducted a major joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea.
“If Beijing is more eager in signing the pact, Korea might be able to gain an upper hand in the negotiations,” said the researcher. “By using China’s position, we can strategically push for our things that are in our interest.”
Concerning the products manufactured in Gaeseong Industrial Complex, Kim said its recognition as Korean products in a Korea-China FTA can enhance the opening-up of North Korea and contribute to the stability on the Korean peninsula.
The two sides agreed to put the issue on the agenda during the negotiations.