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Friday, May 20, 2016, 15:16

Grasp strategic nous of ROK ties

By Wang Hui

Trade deals and high-level talks between Beijing and Seoul help deepen trust but political wisdom key to maintaining momentum

Bilateral ties between China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are in very good shape, but both sides need to grasp the strategic significance of their relationship and to further deepen trade and people-to-people exchanges.

Grasp strategic nous of ROK ties On the sidelines of the fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on March 31, President Xi Jinping told his ROK counterpart Park Geun-hye that China attaches great importance to the bilateral relationship and always makes it a priority in matters of neighborhood diplomacy.

Xi said China and the ROK should maintain the momentum of high-level interactions, make use of the existing mechanisms for strategic communication, accommodate each other’s major concerns, and respect bilateral sovereignty, security and development interests.

In recent years, frequent high-level interactions between both countries have laid a solid foundation for deepening mutual understanding and trust.

Xi and Park have met in Beijing, Seoul and internationally several times since 2013, setting an example in high-level interaction.

During his state visit to the ROK in July 2014, Xi proposed that the two sides should become partners that share common development initiatives, promote regional peace and revitalization, and boost world prosperity. The trajectory of Sino-ROK ties has proven to be a true portrayal of these expectations.

On Dec 20, the China-ROK free trade agreement (FTA) formally took effect, paving the way for bilateral cooperation and exchanges in a much wider range of fields. The FTA, the largest bilateral free trade deal for China in terms of trade volume, covers 17 areas including investment, trade in goods and services, and trade rules.

So far, the two sides have cut tariffs twice, bringing greater benefits for businesses and consumers. In April, they decided to push for a series of joint economic projects.

As China and the ROK share the same goal of linking with the rest of the world, both have proposed large-scale connectivity projects: Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative and Seoul’s Eurasia Initiative.

There are a lot of similarities in each. The former aims to revive the ancient Silk Road trade routes spanning Asia, Africa and Europe while the latter aims to boost logistics and energy cooperation across Europe and Asia.

There will be huge potential for bilateral infrastructure cooperation when each country rolls out its ambitious project.

Statistics from the ROK show that two-way trade volume hit $227.3 billion in 2015, while China is the world’s largest importer of the ROK’s goods.

The bilateral open-trade pact will drive comprehensive integration between the two economies and their production chains. It will contribute to both regional integration and global economic recovery.

It is also noteworthy that Beijing and Seoul have jointly pushed for the revival of China-Japan-ROK trilateral ties since last year and accelerated the negotiations for a trilateral FTA with Tokyo.

Efforts in this regard have helped to ease tensions in the region. In recent years, ties have been strained — not only between Beijing and Tokyo but also between Seoul and Tokyo — due to Japan’s historical revisionism and its designs on China’s Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

The China-ROK FTA and the trilateral FTA, when launched, will enable Beijing and Seoul to deepen strategic cooperation. It will also contribute to rebuilding an economic and political order in East Asia, which shores up peace and development.

On the other hand, the recent flare-up of tensions in Northeast Asia in the wake of Pyongyang’s nuclear test and satellite launch have caused widespread concerns, especially in Beijing and Seoul.

As neighbors of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China and the ROK can play a crucial role in maintaining peace and working toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, better coordination is required at a strategic level to accommodate each other’s interests.

Admittedly, Pyongyang’s ambition to pursue nuclear capabilities and Seoul’s military alliance with the United States lurk behind the rosy picture of bilateral interaction between Beijing and Seoul.

Both China and the ROK need political wisdom to transcend these disruptions and continue to deepen their cooperation at all levels.

The author is China Daily Asia Pacific’s deputy editor-in-chief.

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