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China, Japan and South Korea to revive FTA talks

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Nikkei Asia - 27 May 2024

China, Japan and South Korea to revive FTA talks
By Steven Borowiec

Japan, South Korea and China held their first joint summit in more than four years on Monday, seeking deeper commercial ties to bolster their economies, including by aiming for progress in stalled negotiations toward 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. 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.

Separately, Yoon and Kishida used post summit remarks to decry Pyongyang, which Reuters reported had notified Japan of its plan to send a space satellite toward the Yellow Sea and east of the Philippine island of Luzon between May 27 and June 4. The news agency cited the Japan Coast Guard on Monday for the information.

The South Korean president called on the North to refrain from carrying out the launch.

"All launches that use ballistic missile technology directly violate UN Security Council resolutions and undermine regional and global peace and stability," he said. "If, in spite of warnings from the international community, North Korea proceeds with the launch, then I think the international community must respond decisively."

Kishida, meanwhile, strongly urged North Korea to abandon the plan, also saying a launch would violate UN Security Council resolutions.

Despite the attempt to move forward on a range of issues, including climate cooperation, broader regional tensions could be seen in some exchanges on Sunday, when the leaders held bilateral talks. Kishida, for example, told Li that "peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are of utmost importance to international society," just after China held large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan in the aftermath of the self-governing island’s inauguration of Lai Ching-te as its new president last week.

As host of the gathering, Yoon has tried to emphasize what the three countries have in common and the potential benefits of closer cooperation.

In his meeting with Li on Sunday, Yoon highlighted how the countries need to bolster their shared mechanisms for protecting supply chains for key minerals and other raw materials.

The summit also builds on Yoon’s pursuit of improved relations with Japan since taking office two years ago in order to move beyond frequent tensions over historical issues related to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Additional reporting by Hiroyuki Akiyama and Rieko Miki in Seoul and Tamayo Muto in Tokyo.

 source: Nikkei Asia