FTA also seen through regional security lens

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FTA also seen through regional security lens

While the Korea-China free trade agreement is expected to bring about economic benefits, analysts say it will also have an impact on larger security issues.

The effective conclusion of a bilateral free trade pact by President Xi Jinping and President Park Geun-hye in Beijing along the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing yesterday holds strategic significance as the decision was reached taking into consideration the larger global stage and international order.

According to analysts in Seoul, the free trade deal is expected to bolster the overall relationship between Korea and China. The relationship between Seoul and Beijing, dating back to 1992, has been a market driven one that has prioritized economic profit over military and security issues.

On the contrary, the Korea-U.S. alliance is a state-driven relationship based on military and political cooperation rather than economic gain.

The Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, focused on economic profit and loss, came about in 54 years, while the FTA between Seoul and Beijing took 22 years.

Park In-hui, a professor in the Graduate School for International Studies at Ewha Womans University, said, “As the fusion of market and society proceeds at an accelerated rate, [the conclusion of the Korea-China FTA] has provided a foothold to bring rapid progress in building trust and confidence in security-related issues.”

She added, “In the past, following World War II, the extreme deterioration of relations between Germany with United Kingdom and France was overcome, and integration of Europe was made possible through diplomatic compromise reached during the process of developing a common market, resolving difficult issues naturally.”

Korea has now successfully concluded free trade agreements with the three economic powers - the United States, European Union and China - the third country to do so after Chile and Peru. This is likely to provide more elbowroom for Korea in its diplomacy.

Yun Duk-min, chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said, “Until now, Korean diplomacy has been conducted within the larger frame of the United States, but a sense of balance has been reached through the conclusion of the FTA with China.”

He added, “Building FTA networks with the three global economic powers also signifies that we have broadened the prospect for our diplomacy… There have been opinions that the China-Japan summit alienated Korea, but the closeness between Korea and China has been well highlighted by the FTA.”

Xi held a breakthrough meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday signaling a possible thaw in tense diplomatic relations due to historical and territorial issues.

The free trade pact between Seoul and Beijing could be a means of putting Tokyo in check, while for China, it could also be a strategy to weaken Washington’s influence in Asia.

China specialist Kim Han-kwon, director of the Center for Regional Studies at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said in a roundtable of experts on the issue held in Seoul yesterday that the FTA provides “an opportunity to enhance the two countries’ strategic cooperative partnership.”

However, he added, “Amid heightened strategic competition between the U.S. and China in Northeast Asia, Korea is currently in a difficult position pressured to choose sides on several issues between the U.S. and China.”

This includes the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad) in Korea.

BY YOO JEE-HYE, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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