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China’s Medium- to Long-term Trade Strategy and Korea-China Cooperation Plans Economic cooperation, Trade policy

Author Seungshin Lee, Sang Baek Hyun, Suyeob Na, and Youngsun Kim Series 22-02 Language Korean Date 2022.12.30

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Korea and China celebrated their 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2022, commemorating the remarkable economic results through economic exchanges based on complementary industrial structures. However, in recent years, economic exchanges have entered a phase of contraction due to various factors such as geopolitical challenges, the influence of U.S.-China competition, and the shrinking industrial competitiveness gap between Korea and China. Now, Korea needs to make efforts to secure stable economic cooperation engines while readjusting its existing economic cooperation structure with China. In particular, it is necessary to create a foundation for cooperation between the two countries on the new trade issues such as supply chain reorganization, digital trade, climate change response, development and health cooperation covered in this report. When analyzing China’s mid- to long-term trade strategy on new trade issues, it is divided into areas where China and Korea are expected to form a competitive structure and areas that require cooperation. 

Regarding the reorganization of the supply chain, the possibility that China will expand its own supply capacity for basic resources and intermediate goods, while limiting exports to promote its domestic circulation strategy and economic security, is a significant challenge factor in Korea-China economic relations. In particular, demands for supply chain strategies to reduce dependence on China and diversify sources are increasing due to uncertainties in China’s supply chain. Measures are being taken to fortify supply chains of major resources such as semiconductors, batteries, and rare earths, while restrictions are being made placed on Korean companies’ entry into the Chinese market in the form of electric vehicle battery subsidies. In response to this reorganization of supply chains, we propose establishing a comprehensive national supply chain strategy to prepare Korea’s economy for intensifying competition in tech sectors between the U.S. and China, and internalization of China’s supply chain. In the short term, it is necessary to prepare countermeasures focusing on supply chain stability and resilience through supply chain risk checks for Korea’s major industries. In the mid- to long-term, it is necessary to prepare countermeasures for a long-term vision that focuses on digitalization and “greenization” supply chains, along with diversification of production bases (China+1 or China+N). The second direction of response is the establishment of a multi-layered cooperation platform for supply chain stability. To this end, efforts are needed to actively participate in East Asian cooperation platforms such as the RCEP, CPTPP, IPEF, DEPA, and the U.S.-East Asia Semiconductor Supply Chain Resilience Working Group to stabilize Korean companies’ supply chains and reflect Korean companies’ policy demands. While promoting cooperation focused on technology and talent training cooperation with the U.S., such as the U.S.-East Asia Semiconductor Resilience Working Group, it is necessary to establish a cooperative channel to stabilize the supply chain when considering how closely linked it remains to China. As for the direction of cooperation with China related to the restructuring of the supply chain, the first proposal of this study is to establish a stable supply chain channel between Korea and China. It is necessary to establish a channel related to supply chain recovery and stabilization in which the Korean and Chinese governments and private sectors jointly participate, focusing on unexpected supply chain disruption and post-resilience, so that the channel can be activated in time to solve supply chain problems in case of supply chain disruption. The second direction of cooperation is to promote cooperation related to global supply chain governance. The Industrial Network Recovery and Security International Cooperation Initiative proposed by the Chinese government to establish governance related to global supply chain stability is yet to gain much influence in global supply chains, but the Chinese government seems willing to cooperate internationally in digitalization and greening efforts. After all, since digitalization and greening of supply chains are linked to digital norms such as data movement, localization of computing facilities, and prohibition of source code demands, it is necessary to promote cooperation with the Chinese government on new and common norms. As the last direction of cooperation, it is necessary to explore the possibility of supply chain cooperation such as technology and overseas mining development projects with China.

As our response to digital trade, we propose establishing a trade strategy that reflects the characteristics of China’s trade agreements. The characteristics of China’s digital trade norms include the composition of the provisions of the agreement, which are different for each target country, and the ambiguity of the terms of the agreement. The fact that the terms of the agreement are structured differently, depending on the various interests of the countries involved in the trade agreement, means that there may be ample room for negotiation depending on the circumstances of the two countries when concluding or revising a trade agreement with China in the future. Ambiguity due to unclear stipulations on the terms of the trade agreement is an issue to keep in mind when concluding follow-up negotiations with China, so careful coordination and confirmation of the text will be necessary at the negotiating stage. On the other hand, Korea still lacks response to the introduction of the concept of digital trade regulation under the U.S.-led competitive neutrality principle, which China recognizes as a new challenge, so it is necessary to improve domestic regulations and clarify its position in the international community with countries under similar economic and related industrial development conditions. In addition, the establishment of a Chinese-style digital trade norm model should be addressed in line with the development of global trade norms.

As a digital trade cooperation plan between Korea and China, another direction to explore is the promotion of cross-border cooperation in e-commerce. The revitalization of commodity trading through a digital platform that can lower trade transaction costs is expected to be a promising alternative route to the Korea-China commodity trade, which has been shrinking in recent years. Korea and China need to move away from the industrial cooperation model promoted in the form of the traditional division of labor in manufacturing and seek new opportunities for economic cooperation in the field of digital trade. Now, exports to China should move away from commodity-oriented trade and expand the target and scope of cooperation by expanding trade through digital products and online platforms. In light of current circumstances, exports to China should move away from commodity- oriented trade and expand the objects and scope of cooperation by expanding trade through digital products trade and online platforms. To this end, it is necessary to utilize China’s digital market, which is a major export destination for Korean digital contents, and to prepare countermeasures to minimize the institutional impact of strengthening digital regulations in China. China is a market that accounts for about 81% of Korea’s total e-commerce exports, and considering future market potential, it is necessary to come up with countermeasures to minimize the institutional impact of strengthening digital regulations in China. Korea and China are undergoing follow-up negotiations on the Korea-China FTA, which includes the first e-commerce chapter among China’s trade agreements, and are very active in cooperating with global digital trade norms such as the RCEP entry into force and DEPA entry procedures. These efforts by the two countries can be seen as an inevitable effort to adapt to the era of digital transformation and achieve stable economic development. Applying for DEPA membership, South Korea and China need to establish channels and cooperation platforms to communicate changes in digital-related policies and laws of the two countries. Through dialogue channels with China, Korea should strengthen transparency regarding mutual domestic laws and policies, including regulations on data and e-commerce, and strive to improve regulations that hinder digital cooperation between the two countries.

In response to climate change, both Korea and China have declared carbon neutrality and are promoting step-by-step policies. The de-carbonization strategy can be an opportunity for cooperation discussions as an issue that both Korea and China must jointly respond to at the same time as a risk factor affecting the supply chain. Both countries are using the realization of carbon neutrality as an opportunity to transform industrial structure and upgrade industrial value chains, not just from an environmental protection perspective. As a result, there may be further competition in new energy vehicles, such as hydrogen vehicles and electric vehicles, related to carbon neutrality and alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power, and there is good potential to strengthen technological cooperation and mutual investment cooperation in new fields. To enable agile response to climate change, we present the following three response directions. First, Korea should prepare for China’s transition to a green and low-carbon-centered industrial structure. Efforts to find new business opportunities in green production facilities, renewable energy, carbon capture technology, and energy management systems are needed to prepare a public trade strategy centered on eco-friendly green consumer goods in response to China’s eco-friendly industrial restructuring. The second direction of response is to respond to discussions on trade norms related to climate change led by the United States and the EU. The discussion of international trade norms related to climate change may act as a trade pressure factor for Korea in conjunction with the U.S.-China trade conflict. In preparation for this, Korea must establish a strategic position on the development of related discussions, and should review joint response measures with China as a cooperative agenda. In addition, it is necessary to respond to trade risks related to renewable energy supply chains. To this end, it is necessary to conduct due diligence on corporate supply chains and diversify supply chains to reduce dependence on China such as solar and electric vehicle batteries. As a direction of cooperation related to climate change response, it is necessary to maintain the existing dialogue on climate and environment issues. Discussions on cooperation in the environmental sector between Korea and China have continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic and U.S.-China strategic competition, such as continuing joint research to reduce fine dust between Korea and China, launching a carbon-neutral consultative body, and initiating policy and technology exchanges. In response, we propose to resume the Joint Committee on Climate Change Cooperation between Korea and China.

The direction of cooperation with China in the field of development and health cooperation is, above all, a joint response to the COVID-19 crisis. To this end, it is necessary to continuously promote cooperation between Korea and China to respond to COVID-19. Meanwhile, China is already promoting health and digital cooperation in Southeast Asia through the Health Silk Road and Digital Silk Road strategies. In terms of diversification of cooperation fields for joint entry into the market of third countries between Korea and China, it is also necessary to consider cooperation measures linking development and health cooperation issues. Joint entry into third country markets is a cooperative issue that has been steadily discussed between Korea and China, but has not produced many tangible results. Therefore, it is necessary to expand the scope of cooperation in third country markets. In addition to infrastructure cooperation discussed in the existing cooperation field, new cooperation issues include preventing infectious diseases, supplying vaccines, supporting digital infrastructure construction in developing countries, and developing a remote education cooperation model considering the pandemic. In addition, cooperation in establishing a new infectious disease response cooperation system that may occur in the future can be considered. The establishment of a cooperative system between the two countries could include cooperation in various areas such as sharing information on infectious diseases, developing joint education and training programs, expanding communication channels between health experts, and mutual support systems for quarantine supplies.

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