Beijing open to regional integration in Asia-Pacific

By Zhang Tengjun Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/20 20:08:40

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

China's attendance at the High-level Dialogue on Integration Initiatives in the Asia-Pacific Region in Chile last week has triggered widespread attention and speculations. As Chile is the founding member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and all TPP states were invited to the meeting, some assume that China would join the TPP.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying clarified that the conference is "a high level meeting of the Pacific Alliance and Asia-Pacific countries on Asia-Pacific economic integration, where extensive exchange of views will be conducted on the next step of Asia-Pacific regional cooperation. It is not a TPP meeting, as is described by some media." Since US President Donald Trump announced to withdraw from the TPP, the possibility of China joining the trade bloc has become the subject of discussions. As an economic pillar for the Obama government's strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, the TPP was a significant tool for the US to counter China, and the bloc itself is tainted with power politics.

Although excluded from the bloc, China has not changed its position on the TPP. China stays committed to open regionalism and embraces regional economic integration. This is why Beijing has not deliberately excluded itself from the Chile meeting where all TPP members were invited.

Given the anti-globalization momentum growing worldwide, China's top leaders are striving to safeguard globalization, support free trade and contribute China's ideas to the operation of the world economy. China spares no effort to promote the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and the economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region.

China has clear visions and practical ideas regarding the Asia-Pacific multilateral trade arrangements. Beijing is open to all arrangements that will enhance regional economic integration, trade liberalization and facilitation. In this sense, the setback in the TPP cannot be seen as an opportunity for the RCEP. The TPP's high standard is the direction of China's future reform. The RCEP is a more inclusive option for China, and the FTAAP is a milestone in the pursuit of Asia-Pacific economic integration.

In pursuit of integration, China needs to focus its attention on multilateral relations, take regional groups' initiatives into account and provide public goods and political and financial support to integrate more countries to the regional free trade framework. It is worth emphasizing that China is playing an active, rather than a dominant, role in the process. Meanwhile, joint efforts are indispensible in the construction of multilateral mechanism. China has already signed free trade agreements with more than 10 Asia-Pacific countries and regions, such as ASEAN, and attempts to gradually remove trade barriers with bilateral agreements, so as to provide favorable conditions for the Asia-Pacific economic integration.

The Asia-Pacific economy is still one of the most invigorating in the world. The integration process concerns not only the interests of China and regional countries, but also the hope for the future of the world economy. As a beneficiary of the free trade system, China is playing a more active role in global and regional economic governance. Joint efforts are needed to speed up the construction of the Asia-Pacific free trade system.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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