China, India must prevent border tensions from blocking progress toward RCEP

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/20 20:58:39

Hundreds of officials from 16 nations are set to address a gathering in Hyderabad, India next week where they will meet to negotiate an Asia-centered trade deal called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

China and India are two prominent members of the group, but they face the task of preventing an escalation of their border tensions from becoming an obstacle to reach ing trade agreements at the negotiating table.

In 2012, tensions over the Diaoyu Islands flared up between China and Japan when the latter tried to "nationalize" the uninhabited islands, which both nations claim sovereignty over. One result of the territorial dispute is that negotiations on a China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) have been stalled since Sino-Japan ties cooled after the incident. In 2015, China and South Korea signed a bilateral FTA, stealing the thunder of the trilateral deal that was viewed as being beneficial to the local economies. That scenario must be prevented by the RCEP.

For China, sovereign territorial rights are sacred and inviolable, but the country is always committed to resolving disputes through negotiation and opposed to intensifying conflicts that will lead to unnecessary political and economic wounds.

China's "Belt and Road" initiative and its unequivocal support for free trade have drawn increasing attention from the international community, which recognizes that Beijing is trying to redevelop the concept of harmonious co-existence and win-win cooperation amid increased anti-globalization rhetoric. This stance is in line with the interests of all the countries involved in the RCEP including India. China hopes that India can strive to control its actions, ensuring that the escalation of the border tensions does not endanger the atmosphere of cooperation for the RCEP.

After US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the RCEP became symbolic of free trade. The proposed mega trade deal reportedly accounts for about 27 percent of global trade. Early completion of the RCEP negotiations will allow not only China but also India to enjoy preferential tariffs or even zero tariffs when exporting to other RCEP member countries, thus bringing new momentum to economic growth. China is urging other RCEP members to wrap up the deal as soon as possible, but that does not mean that China will make any compromises to achieve this goal. If India encourages the border tensions to thwart the free trade negotiations, China will fight back and spare no effort to safeguard its territorial sovereignty, which cannot be traded in any case.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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