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UPDATED: May 14, 2012
China, Japan, ROK to Launch FTA Talks
China, Japan, ROK announce plan for FTA talks, give "great" attention to NE Asia stability

China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) on Sunday agreed to launch talks on a free trade area (FTA) later this year as the leaders gathered in Beijing.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced the plan at a joint press conference held after a trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and ROK President Lee Myung-bak.

Calling the agreement "an important strategic decision," Wen said the three nations should make concerted efforts for the early establishment of the FTA.

"I think it's very meaningful for the future of the three nations to start the ROK-China-Japan FTA negotiations," Lee told reporters at the press conference.

China and the ROK announced the start of bilateral negotiations for setting up the FTA earlier this month. China's Minister of Commerce Chen Deming said he hoped the negotiations would conclude within two years.

Analysts say the Japanese Government felt pressure after China and the ROK's announcement of the bilateral talks, as many Japanese enterprises fear they will be edged out of the vast Chinese market by their ROK competitors with tariff advantages.

At the press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Noda said Japan agreed to conduct consultations with China and the ROK.

"It's a substantial result that we reach a consensus on launching the FTA consultations within the year," Noda said.

"The guideline of the Japanese side is to set up an Asia-Pacific free trade circle, including the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership advocated by the United States)," he said.

The establishment of the FTA among China, Japan and the ROK will not only contribute to the development of the three countries, but also help promote East Asian integration and drive global economic growth, said Chen Fengying, director of the Institute of World Economic Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

China, Japan and the ROK together represent 74 percent and 22 percent of the East Asian and world populations, 90 percent and 20 percent of the East Asian and world economies, and 70 percent and 20 percent of East Asian and world trade, respectively, according to a White Paper handbook titled "China-Japan-ROK Cooperation 1999-2012" released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Chinese Premier Wen said the other important result of the 5th Trilateral Summit Meeting was that the three nations clinched a deal to promote, facilitate and protect mutual investment among the three nations.

"It will serve as the first important legal document on trilateral cooperation in the economic field," said the Chinese leader.

Wen said the three nations have promised to seriously implement the deal, so as to "create a stable, fair and transparent environment for expanding mutual investment among the three countries and further deepen economic integration."

Chen, the Chinese scholar, said the deal will help quicken the pace of setting up the trilateral FTA as well as encourage more investment among the three nations.

Both Noda and Lee highlighted the significance of the deal.

The three sides signing the trilateral investment agreement is worthy of a great celebration, said the Japanese leader, adding that he hopes the deal will spur a move to advance trilateral cooperation to a higher level.

Lee said the deal "should have been reached earlier" given the close economic ties among the three nations.

Statistics show that trilateral trade expanded from $130 billion in 1999 to $690 billion in 2011. China has topped the lists of trading partners of Japan and the ROK for many years, while Japan and the ROK rank fourth and sixth among China's trading partners, respectively.

During the meeting, the leaders also agreed to expand their trade settlements in local currencies to boost financial cooperation in East Asia and enhance cooperation on environmental protection and the recycling economy, among other areas, to realize sustainable development in the region.

"We stressed that the three sides should work to deepen mutual understanding among the people of the nations and improve people-to-people sentiments, which is of significance for China-Japan-ROK cooperation," said the Chinese leader.

High attention to northeast asia stablility

During Sunday's annual meeting, Premier Wen urged all sides concerned to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula with wisdom, patience and goodwill.

"The three leaders gave great attention to the situation in Northeast Asia," Wen said at the press conference.

The peace and stability of Northeast Asia not only concerns the interests of all the nations in the region, but is a main precondition for sustainable development and prosperity there, Wen said.

As major nations in Northeast Asia, China, Japan and the ROK have incumbent responsibility in the region, according to the Chinese premier.

The nations should work hard to address relevant issues through dialogue and negotiations, while bearing in mind the legitimate security concerns of all sides, he said.

"What is most urgent (for us) is to make all-out efforts to prevent the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula," he added.

"All the parties should give full play to their wisdom, remain patient and show their goodwill to alleviate conflict and return to the right track of dialogue and negotiations," Wen said, calling for continued efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the Six-Party talks.

The Six-Party talks, which involve China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, the ROK, Russia and Japan, were launched in 2003, but stalled in December 2008. The DPRK quit the talks in April 2009.

During the trilateral meeting, the leaders also exchanged views on the situation in the DPRK and a presidential statement issued by the UN Security Council on the country, according to Japanese Prime Minister Noda and ROK President Lee.

The DPRK launched a Kwangmyongsong-3 observation satellite on April 13 to mark the 100th birthday of late DPRK founder Kim Il Sung. The long-range rocket crashed into the sea after traveling a short distance, and the DPRK confirmed the failure later that day.

On April 16, the UN Security Council issued a presidential statement condemning the launch and demanding that Pyongyang fully comply with relevant resolutions and suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program.

(Xinhua News Agency May 13, 2012)

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