FTA with China Could Have Geopolitical Ramifications

      January 11, 2012 12:03

      Free trade talks between South Korea and China will have far-reaching implications beyond the realm of commerce. If the pact is concluded, it will have a strong diplomatic and security aspect that is capable of shifting the geopolitical landscape of Northeast Asia.

      ◆ Diplomatic Opportunities

      A key government official on Tuesday said the FTA "must be pursued from a national strategic standpoint that bears Korean reunification in mind." Another government official said while North Korea "relies on China, the Seoul-Beijing relationship is based on mutual economic exchanges. From a long-term perspective, the South Korea-China FTA could spell opportunities to maintain stability in North Korea and head toward reunification."

      Since forming diplomatic ties with China in 1992, Seoul has proposed to Beijing several ways to ensure stability in North Korea and pursue reunification, but none of them have succeeded. Deepening ties between South Korea and China through the economic pact could become an effective way to expand Seoul’s diplomatic and security options.

      Kim Sung-han at Korea University said, “If the FTA is worked out successfully, we will be able to discuss the North Korean issue with Beijing and get a chance to create an atmosphere for achieving reunification of the two Koreas.

      Experts say that the negotiating channel for the bilateral FTA will play a positive role, since it is being created at a time when uncertainties are mounting in the North following the sudden death of leader Kim Jong-il amid growing defection from the country. China is also apparently approaching the FTA from a strategic as well as an economic perspective.

      Yoon Duk-min at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security said, "From one perspective, China sees the FTA as a chance to overcome Washington's strategy of encirclement. For us, it would serve as a strong diplomatic card."

      As of the end of 2010, bilateral trade totaled US$188.4 billion, which is more than the combined trade with the U.S. ($90.2 billion) and Japan ($92.5 billion). If Seoul and Beijing strengthen their economic alliance through the bilateral FTA, some experts believe China will no longer take such a passive approach to Korean reunification.

      Beijing would have fewer reasons to fear a reunification led by the South if South Korea and China boost economic cooperation and bilateral ties.

      ◆ Geopolitical Impact

      The South Korea-China FTA could have a major geopolitical impact on Northeast Asia as well. Until now, the security landscape in Northeast Asia has been a Cold-War-style standoff between the South Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance on one side and China and North Korea on the other. But if the Seoul-Beijing FTA is signed and economic cooperation increases rapidly, this traditional framework would crumble.

      Heo Yoon at Sogang University said, "The reason why leftwing factions opposed the FTA with the U.S. is because they didn’t want Seoul-Washington ties to strengthen further. So from an economic perspective, the FTA with China would be a form of alliance, and we need to take a close, strategic look at simultaneously bolstering our ties with the U.S. and China and seek public consensus."

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