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China says trade deal with South Korea presents challenge for Taiwan

[BEIJING] China on Wednesday said its free trade deal with South Korea would be a challenge for Taiwan, urging the island to hasten ratification of a cross-strait services pact that Taiwan lawmakers have left in limbo.

China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, and the two sides signed a landmark cross-strait trade deal in 2010 that set the framework for freeing up their trade in goods and services, besides deepening economic ties.

Ma Xiaoguang, the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office in China, told a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday that he hoped the services agreement could be passed as soon as possible.

If not, he warned, Taiwan would not enjoy the same treatment as South Korea in the China market.

"The signing of the China-South Korea FTA has indeed put forward a challenge to deepening cross-strait economic cooperation," Mr Ma added.

Last week, a top Chinese commerce ministry official said the free trade pact with South Korea should be effective in the second half of next year if all went well, ending negotiations that started in 2012.

The agreement on the services sector has yet to be ratified by Taiwan's parliament after a massive demonstration in March, predominantly by young Taiwanese, blocked its progress.

Critics of the pact say ever closer economic ties with China endanger Taiwan's political autonomy. China and Taiwan split in a civil war in 1949 and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back what it regards as a renegade province.