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Economy

South Korea, China call for trade pact by year's end

SEOUL -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye agreed here Thursday to work toward concluding a free trade agreement between the two countries this year.

     In a joint statement, the leaders stressed that the deal "will serve as an engine for growth in the regional and world economies and lead to an improvement of the quality of life for people in both countries."

     The meeting came as Beijing aims for warmer ties with Seoul amid shared tensions with Japan. Xi described the parley, which ran twice as long as originally planned, as an important turning point for the development of the bilateral relationship.

     Should China and South Korea conclude a free trade pact before an agreement that includes Tokyo is completed, Japanese companies operating in China could be put at a disadvantage against their South Korean rivals.

     Documents attached to the joint statement indicate that South Korea and China will jointly study materials related to the issue of wartime "comfort women," a source of dissatisfaction with Japan for both countries. Still, Seoul has its reservations about stressing solidarity with Beijing at a top-level meeting, and the leaders made no specific mention of Japan or historical issues in the joint statement itself or their news conference.

     China and South Korea found common ground in their adamant opposition to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons capabilities and agreed to work together toward achieving a nuclear-free peninsula. The leaders also agreed to hold regular strategic dialogues between high-ranking officials on national security issues.

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