US urged to join mega APAC trade deal by China’s former chief trade negotiator

Orange Wang
·4-min read

The United States should rejoin the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (CPTPP) and work with China to merge the agreement with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to create a huge free-trade area that would include the two largest economies in the world, according to China’s former chief trade negotiator, Long Yongtu.

The CPTPP is an ambitious trade agreement that was created after the US withdrew from the original Trans-Pacific Partnership during the administration of former US president Donald Trump. Merging the RCEP with the CPTPP would create the largest free-trade pact in the world.

With China already a member of the RCEP, and Beijing having already shown its willingness to join the CPTPP, Washington’s stance is key to economic integration in the region, said Long, the former Chinese vice-minister of international trade and the point man during the country’s years-long talks to gain access to the World Trade Organization in 2001.

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The participation of the US would definitely be good news for the Asian regional economic integration. We need to convey such a message to the US president

Long Yongtu

“We hope that the Biden administration can adopt a more positive attitude towards multilateralism, starting with [rejoining] the TPP, so that the entire Asia-Pacific region will be very happy,” he said at the Boao Forum for Asia on Monday. “The participation of the US would definitely be good news for the Asian regional economic integration. We need to convey such a message to the US president.”

Long also said that the conditions for integrating the RCEP with the CPTPP are already very mature, given that the two free-trade agreements have several common member states – Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China is “actively considering” joining the CPTPP.

His comments came as political tensions remain heated between the world’s two largest economies, which have clashed on issues ranging from Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang to Hong Kong and Taiwan, leading to calls for economic decoupling.

China ‘needs’ trade pact like CPTPP to force it into domestic reform

“If the US cannot become a part of the Asia-Pacific trade agreement, it will be a heavy blow to the unity and cooperation of the entire Asia-Pacific region,” Long said.

US President Joe Biden has sought to present a united front with Japan to counter China in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The ball is in the US’ court,” Long said. “If the US adopts a positive attitude towards regional cooperation in the entire Asia-Pacific region, the prospect of merging the RCEP and TPP will be a matter of course.”

Long said that the signing of the RCEP symbolised that the weight of the global economy has already shifted to the Asia-Pacific region, but he added that there was still work to be done in terms of cultivating “regional cooperation and regional trade liberalisation”.

China signed the RCEP in November with 14 other Asia-Pacific nations after eight years of negotiations, while India pulled out of the deal at the last minute.

The trade agreement, initiated by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2012, covers nearly one-third of the world’s population and gross domestic product.

Others who spoke at the Boao Forum said that the rising confrontation between China and the US was one of the biggest challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region.

“South Korea is extremely concerned” about the adversarial nature of the US-China rivalry, said Chung-in Moon, chairman of the Sejong Institute and a distinguished professor at Yonsei University.

If the United States wants to compete with China in Asia, it has quite an opening, because so many of these other Asian countries are feeling so wary of Beijing

Susan Shirk

And Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Centre at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, pointed to China’s “wolf warrior diplomacy”.

“The people in the United States and people in Asia are concerned because Beijing appears to be picking fights with many of its neighbours – with Australia, with Japan, with India, with the Philippines,” she said. “We wonder what happened to the smart, sophisticated regional strategy.”

“I have to say that, regrettably, many of China’s actions are creating a backlash, not just in Asia, but in the US and other parts of the world as well. So, if the United States wants to compete with China in Asia, it has quite an opening, because so many of these other Asian countries are feeling so wary of Beijing.”

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