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ROK's WTO complaints don't hold water

By Xu Man | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-30 07:28

ROK's WTO complaints don't hold water

People protest against the deployment of an advanced US missile defense system in front of the Lotte Headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Feb 27, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Republic of Korea has complained to the World Trade Organization about China's "countermeasures" in tourism and business for Seoul's decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in the ROK.

Such an accusation contradicts the fact that China has consistently abided by WTO rules and attaches great importance to the development of economic and trade relations with the ROK. It will also fail to appease Chinese consumers who are unhappy with some of the ROK's recent political decisions.

China-ROK economic and trade relations and people-to-people exchanges were booming for the past few years. China is still the ROK's largest trading partner and the ROK is China's largest source of imports.

According to the website of Ministry of Commerce, the bilateral trade in goods reached $211.4 billion last year despite the weak global economic recovery. The ROK's export of goods to China reached about $124.4 billion of the total trade volume, and imports from China were about $87 billion. China had a trade deficit of $37.5 billion in its trade with the ROK, the largest among its trade partners.

But after the ROK formally agreed with the United States in July last year to install THAAD, the regional strategic equilibrium was seriously undermined posing a security threat to China and other countries in the region. The move also goes against the spirit of restoring peace to the Korean Peninsula, and not surprisingly it has triggered a huge controversy within the ROK, too.

Over the past months, many consumers have boycotted ROK products in supermarkets and other stores in China, and hosts of Chinese tourists have cancelled their trips to the ROK, casting a shadow over the already chilly China-ROK relations.

By hyping up China's "countermeasures" against ROK products, the Seoul delegation to the WTO tried to show that ROK enterprises are getting "unfair" treatment in China and win the support of international organizations. But the ROK knows full well that it does not have enough evidence to file a legal case against China with the WTO. In fact, a senior ROK official recently said there is no proof that China is taking "targeted policy measures" in response to THAAD's deployment in the ROK.

The Chinese government has always attached the utmost importance to economic and trade ties with the ROK. Whether or not overseas companies will achieve commercial success in China is decided by the Chinese market and consumers.

Seoul should realize Beijing is strongly opposed to the deployment of THAAD on ROK soil for genuine reasons, and understand that many Chinese people oppose the deployment of THAAD.

So, if the ROK wants to protect its companies' share in China's market, it should first try to meet the requirements of Chinese customers.

China has an active approach to people-to-people exchanges with the ROK and reiterated that there is no "order of restrictions" against the ROK. But China has also made it clear that it is resolutely opposed to the US' deploying its THAAD anti-missile system on ROK soil. The ROK should have known what China's response would be to THAAD before agreeing with the US to deploy it.

What the ROK is witnessing in China is not any official "targeted restrictions", but the genuine reflection of Chinese people's anger against its reckless move .

As a responsible member, China has consistently complied with WTO rules and fulfilled its commitments. Without any sufficient evidence against China violating WTO rules, any legal move by the ROK is doomed to failure.

Protectionism is rising worldwide. As beneficiaries and supporters of free trade and globalization, China and the ROK have made great strides in economic development. And now they should strengthen cooperation and boost free trade to better serve their common interests.

The author is a research fellow in international trade and economics with the Ministry of Commerce.

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