[Letters] Seek policies for accommodation in China trade

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[Letters] Seek policies for accommodation in China trade

I write, with some reluctance, to take issue with certain policy recommendations made by former Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong in his op-ed piece (“Conditions for a Korea-China FTA”) in your March 8 edition. I admired Mr. Kim’s leadership in negotiating the Korus FTA, and I agree with many of his suggestions for the Korea-China negotiations.

But he goes far astray when he urges Korea “... to propose to China that it upgrade its bilateral free trade system to a multilateral regional trade agreement [RTA] encompassing not only Korea and China, but also [numerous other Southeast Asian countries]. We could persuade China that such an RTA could counter the 10-member Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] led by the U.S. that excluded China.”

With respect to Mr. Kim, I cannot imagine anything more damaging to the progress of trade liberalization, to the economic and geopolitical future of the Pacific Basin, and especially to the interests of Korea. In particular, for Korea to “propose” such a concept and “persuade China” to follow such a path would completely undermine Mr. Kim’s quite valid argument that Korea “must tread carefully to maintain a balance between rising Chinese and waning U.S. power.” Korea does indeed have an important, a historic role to play in maintaining that balance.

Its ability to do so, however, would be fatally compromised if the U.S. were to see Korea “proposing” to China the creation of a trade bloc explicitly for “countering” the TPP.

The formation of such a China-led bloc would also greatly strengthen the hand of any in the U.S. who want the TPP to be directed against China. Today that is emphatically not what the TPP is all about. Pushed strongly by the major multinational corporations, the TPP aims to fill the gap left by the deadlock in the Doha Round and to go beyond the Doha Agenda to establish “behind the border” rules governing global supply chains, protection of investments and IP rights, fair labor standards, disciplines on the noneconomic conduct of state-owned entities, etc.

The idea is to create a “gold standard 21st century agreement” which, once running, will gradually attract more and more signatories - potentially even China. But there are politicians who would like to see the TPP play a different, crudely geopolitical “contain China” role. Korea must not play into their hands.

I submit that the appropriate role for Korea is to seek policies that promote accommodation, not confrontation, between the U.S. and China. A Korea-China FTA, giving Korea increased influence with both superpowers, goes that way. Creating and joining a China-led trade bloc goes the wrong way.

Mr. Richard C. Cunningham advised Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy in the negotiation of the Korus FTA and the Korea-EU FTA.

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.
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