Beijing has asked to join an 11-country Asia-Pacific trade pact once pushed by the United States as a way to isolate China and consolidate American dominance in the region.
Trade Minister Wang Wentao has nominated New Zealand Trade Minister to represent the Comprehensive Agreement and Progress for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Commerce Ministry said Thursday.
The treaty, originally called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was envisioned by the United States as an economic bloc to counterbalance China’s growing power, with then-President Barack Obama saying in 2016 that the United States, not China, should draft regional trade rules. His successor Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2017, with Japan leading the revised and renamed pact to successful change the following year.
In addition to New Zealand, members include Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Britain is negotiating to join.
If China joins, that would quadruple the total population within the group to some 2 billion people.
The bid will certainly elicit a reaction from Washington, where a number of lawmakers had previously expressed concern over China’s efforts to join. There has been no sign that President Joe Biden’s administration is interested in joining the deal.
The candidacy is the result of months of behind-the-scenes discussions after President Xi Jinping said in 2020 the country was interested in joining. China is the second country to apply to join the deal, after the UK applied for membership earlier this year.
“This is a perfectly rational calculation on the part of the Chinese leadership,” said Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels. “Considering how the Chinese market is boosting economic recovery, their cards will never be stronger. Or rather, the cost of rejecting China’s candidacy will never be so high.”
The request highlights the increasingly complicated geopolitical situation in Asia, where China is the dominant economy and major trading partner for many, but competition with the United States is escalating.
Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan are members of the pact and close allies of the United States. Along with China, they are also members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, an Asian trade pact of 15 countries that was successfully negotiated last year.
Military and diplomatic tensions between China and Japan, the largest economy in the Comprehensive Agreement and Progress for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have increased due to China’s increased military presence around the islands that the two nations claim as theirs, Chinese threats to Taiwan, and other factors.
Regarding China’s candidacy, “Japan must properly examine whether it is ready to reach the high level of the TPP,” Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu said in Tokyo on Friday.
“We will discuss with other member countries and deal with this taking into account strategic issues,” he said, adding that the UK bid would be dealt with first.
TAIWAN, AUSTRALIA QUESTIONS
Taiwan had also expressed interest in joining the pact and had spoken to members of the group, with some lawmakers in the Japanese ruling party supporting Taiwan’s entry last month. However, the Chinese candidacy will complicate this, as Beijing opposes Taiwan’s membership of any international organization or group.
China’s offer to join the pact came less than a day after Australia, the US and the UK announced they would form a more cohesive defense deal to offset military prowess growing areas of China. China has attacked this deal, but will now have to negotiate with Australia and possibly the UK over joining the pact.
The talks will not be straightforward – China and Australia are already in the midst of an economic and trade dispute, which has seen Beijing impose tariffs or block billions of dollars in Australian exports, although the two countries have a free trade agreement.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said on Friday that the 11 member countries should agree to start negotiations, and insisted that China should speak directly to other countries.
Canada is another member of the pact that is in conflict with China, with a Canadian citizen jailed for 11 years and another still awaiting conviction in cases believed to be related to the arrest in Canada of the daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies Co.
A number of members of Congress have called on the United States to join the pact or be more active in trade diplomacy in the region. However, the Biden administration has not announced any concrete trade policies for the region, although there are reports that it is discussing a digital trade deal covering the economies of the Asia-Pacific.
“The future of technology, commerce and defense will be either led by the Chinese Communist Party or by the United States and our allies,” said US Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., In response to the new. “If China sees the value in forging alliances across the Pacific, why not the United States? Let’s return to a position of leadership instead of retreating.”
A former U.S. trade official said China’s membership in the group was uncertain given its trade regime and focus on more central control of its economy.
“It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to see how they could adopt the CPTPP rules governing state-owned enterprises, labor, e-commerce, free flow of data, among others, as well as comprehensive market access commitments. “said Wendy. Cutler, Vice President of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Acting Deputy US Trade Representative.
Information for this article was provided by staff at The Associated Press.