[Letter to the editor]Korea should aim for a regional FTA

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[Letter to the editor]Korea should aim for a regional FTA

Last week, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited South Korea and Japan. Wen expressed his wish to start free trade agreement negotiations with Korea as soon as possible, even showing a willingness to make concessions to Korea on the sensitive agricultural market. Many here regard the visit as a beneficial result of the Korea-U.S. FTA. However, Koreans should pay attention to Wen’s visit to Japan.
During that visit, the first in seven years by a Chinese leader, he made a pledge of friendship and thanked Japan for its contribution to China’s economic growth. Wen’s so-called ice-melting trip did not stop there. During the visit, he also showed the mildest approach toward history-related controversies, including the Yasukuni Shrine and comfort women. This has significant implications that should concern South Korea.
China has been making great efforts to curb the hegemonic power of the United States, especially over Northeast Asia.
For the Chinese government, the Korus FTA, which will give the United States a chance to increase its influence over the region, is hardly welcome. Establishing friendly relations with Japan will help China as a counter-balance to the United States. China seeks to develop economic and political cooperation with Japan, including a free trade agreement. If China finds it better and easier to conclude an FTA with Japan, it will turn away from negotiating a bilateral trade pact with Korea. A predictable consequence could be a stronger Korea-U.S. alliance versus a newly formed alliance between two of the world’s major economies. In other words, South Korea could face isolation, rather than being an economic hub as it expected.
Recently, the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration repeatedly urge Japan to make official apologies for its war crimes during World War II, which makes Japan feel uncomfortable. In contrast, China has punished anti-Japanese activism on Web sites and by patriotic groups, which relieves Japan. As nations always seek to advance national interests, once Japan finds it more beneficial to build amicable relations, including an FTA, with China than with the United States, it will definitely choose to do so. The size of an FTA between China, the world’s fourth-largest economic power, and Japan, the second, would be bigger than the Korea-U.S. FTA. South Korea should not be complacent.
The South Korean government should seek ways to forge a regional trade agreement that includes Japan, China and Korea. It can start by responding positively to the call for a Korea-China FTA by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Ahn Ye-seul,
Ewha Girls’ Foreign Language High School
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