China, Japan and South Korea vow to seek progress on FTA


SEOUL — Japan, South Korea and China held their first joint summit in over four years on Monday, seeking deeper commercial ties to bolster their economies, including by aiming for progress in stalled negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA), but with Seoul and Tokyo also using the occasion to criticize North Korea over a planned satellite launch.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol hosted Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul. None of the three were in office for the last three-way gathering in December 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, in Chengdu, China.

In a joint statement released after the summit, the three leaders agreed to “institutionalize” three- way cooperation by regularly holding the trilateral summit and ministerial meetings, saying that Japan will host the next leaders’ meeting. They also said they will continue discussions for “speeding up negotiations” for an FTA, aiming for an agreement that is “free, fair, comprehensive, high-quality, and mutually beneficial.”

The three countries announced in November 2012 the launch of the negotiations. But the talks stopped after the 16th round, held in November 2019. China has called for restarting them as its economy has weakened. The halt in the talks came amid trade frictions between the U.S. and China and was also affected by the pandemic.

Choo Jae-woo, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at Kyunghee University in Seoul, said that the wording of Monday’s statement does not indicate the three countries have moved any closer to achieving an FTA. To reach such a breakthrough, China would need to upgrade its representation at the trilateral talks, with President Xi Jinping, the country’s most powerful figure, taking part instead of Li, Choo said.

“Without Xi’s bargaining power, I don’t think we can expect any progress [toward an FTA],” Choo told Nikkei Asia.

On the bright side, Choo said it was encouraging that “a variety of communication channels were set up or announced to be resumed,” specifically involving young people. That, he said, indicates “the three countries recognize the importance of enhancing mutual understanding” and “presumably agreed that it is time to be more future oriented.”
Source: Nikkei Asia


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