Can China, Japan and South Korea follow RCEP with their own free-trade deal?

Can China, Japan and South Korea follow RCEP with their own free-trade deal?

China’s attempt to further consolidate regional economic power by pushing forward a trilateral free-trade agreement with Japan and South Korea has been met with both political and industrial complications, despite the conclusion this month of the RCEP, the first region-wide free-trade deal.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week completed a three-day trip to Japan and South Korea that – with a trilateral summit not expected to happen this year and a stalemate in relations between Tokyo and Seoul – could be the only imminent high-level opportunity for Beijing to push for progress on the FTA.

Through state media and officials, Beijing has expressed its eagerness after the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to see movement on a trilateral FTA that has been discussed for eight years but has often been disrupted by bilateral politics.

The RCEP – signed on November 16 between China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – is now considered the world’s largest trading bloc.