How to view China’s application is the litmus test of CPTPP: Global Times editorial
Published: Jul 16, 2023 11:10 PM
CPTPP photo: VCG

CPTPP photo: VCG

On Sunday, members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) met in Auckland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom formally signed the pact to join the CPTPP, becoming the first new member state to join after the agreement came into force in 2018. China, which applied to join the CPTPP in 2021, ranked the second after the UK. According to the time order of application submission, the CPTPP should next discuss about China's accession, which is one of the important topics of this meeting.

It is hoped that all CPTPP member countries will not mix political prejudice and bias into China's bid, let alone set an entry threshold for China specifically. Instead, they should look at, deal with and accept China's application for membership in a positive and open manner and under the principle of true multilateralism. If China finally joins, it will not only lead to a win-win situation for the country and the CPTPP, but also break through and transcend geopolitics' strong erosion on the global economy and trade characterized by the promotion of camp confrontation in the reality of international economic and trade relations. This is also of considerable significance.

In the context of the overall global economic setback, Asia has become one of the important engines of global economic growth. As the first large-scale free trade agreement reached in the Asia-Pacific region, CPTPP has continuously demonstrated its positive effect on regional economic development in recent years, increasingly becoming an internationally recognized agreement with high standards, broad scope and wide coverage. China is the largest trading partner of eight of the 12 CPTPP countries, while Japan and Singapore maintain large-scale investments in China. China has the willingness and ability to join the CPTPP, and its application is in line with the interests of the Asia-Pacific region and the world's economic recovery.

The CPTPP is rather unique. Its predecessor, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is a product under the US' leadership. In the eyes of many economic and trade specialists, it is believed that TPP's initial intention was to compete with China's influence in the Asia-Pacific economic and trade sphere, and some of its standards and norms are considered to be aimed at China. When Donald Trump, who likes to "walk off the beaten path," became the US president, he pushed for the US to withdraw from the agreement as he called the TPP "a rape of our country." The remaining 11 member countries did not give up, so they completed the CPTPP negotiations in early 2018 and the new pact officially came into force at the end of that year.

The CPTPP is suspected of "targeting China," but with no narrow-minded view and closed mind, the latter was the second country to apply for membership, which is not just to show a lofty stance. China has conducted in-depth and comprehensive research and evaluation on more than 2,300 articles of the CPTPP, and sorted out the reform measures, laws and regulations that need to be modified for China's accession. To smoothly dovetail with the high standards of the CPTPP, China since 2022 has been piloting some of the CPTPP rules in some eligible free trade zones. China's sincerity and determination to promote high-level opening-up are supported by strong facts.

In theory, after the US' withdrawal, the geopolitical color of the CPTPP suddenly diminished, allowing for greater development and growth based on the principles of free trade and multilateralism. Specifically, there should be less unnecessary pressure and resistance within the CPTPP regarding China's application to join. However, it cannot be denied that the US still casts a shadow over the CPTPP, as all the members currently displaying a negative attitude toward China's accession are American allies, which clearly has a reason behind it. These countries have not openly opposed China's entry, but their attitude is evident. The US' drastic fluctuations in attitude toward the TPP may not have left a deep enough lesson for them.

If we exclude political interference, the benefits that China's accession would bring to the CPTPP are obvious. It would greatly increase the CPTPP'S scale and influence, generating significant spillover effects. Scholars from the Brandeis International Business School and Johns Hopkins University have found that if China were to join, the global income gains generated by the CPTPP, would quadruple to $632 billion, or a quarter more than in the original TPP with the US. China's accession means that the consumer base of CPTPP members will triple, and the pact members' total GDP will expand by 1.5 times, benefiting not only all members but also contributing to the global trade and economic development. In conclusion, The CPTPP without China and the CPTPP with China cannot be mentioned in the same breath.

The sincerity of China's application to join the CPTPP is beyond doubt. Some people make an issue of China's difficulty in meeting the "high standards" of the CPTPP, questioning China's ability in this regard. However, if one has knowledge about China's accession negotiations to the WTO, this would not be seen as a problem. At that time, China was considered to have gaps in various standards of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but after several years of effort, China has become a recognized top performer within the WTO. Since China has the confidence to apply for membership, it will definitely fulfill its commitments. China's international credibility in terms of commitments is among the highest among major countries.

From joining the WTO to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and now the CPTPP, China has embraced the world with open arms. Initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are also open to all countries. We hope that the 12 member countries of the CPTPP can share the same level of openness and spirit. How the CPTPP member countries view China's accession will become an important criterion for evaluating their fairness and openness, and it will also show people whether the CPTPP has the potential to become the "most outstanding trade agreement in the world."