China has officially applied to join an Asia-Pacific free trade group which was originally aimed at countering Beijing’s regional influence.
China’s commerce minister Wang Wentao announced that he submitted China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in a letter to New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth, who is acting as CPTPP depositary.
The Global Times called it a “landmark” move and said that China’s application to join the trade group “cements the country’s leadership in global trade” and leaves the United States “increasingly isolated.”
The CPTPP was originally promoted by ex-president Barack Obama and was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan and New Zealand in 2018. Prior to that, the group was known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and “seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s regional influence,” Reuters reported.
In 2017, the then-US president Donald Trump pulled out of the group. Joe Biden has not yet rejoined the free trade group.
Meanwhile, the statement said that the two ministers held a teleconference discussing relevant follow-up work after China’s official application.
The local Chinese media called the move “another giant step” after the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
China’s application to join the CPTPP comes a day after the US, UK and Australia formed a new defence-focused grouping in the Indo-Pacific, known as AUKUS, intended to counter Beijing.
Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Commerce had said that the country was “actively conducting a study on matters related to joining the CPTPP.”
Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing told the Global Times that “the move is a significant development for China’s involvement in international economic and trade deal-setting” and added that it “tends to put China on a better position in deciding on future trade rules.”
The deal is also expected to “complement existing domestic efforts to deepen reform and opening-up,” Mr Gao said.
If China joins the group — that already includes Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam; Britain is negotiating to join the group — that would quadruple the total population within the group to some two billion people, Associated Press reported.
Song Wei, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a think tank under the ministry of commerce told the Global Times that the application filing is indicative of: “China’s unswerving stance on global trade openness despite the rise of global trade protectionism that’s being fanned by the long tail of Covid-19.”
Ms Song also noted that the trade deal is “envisioned to cement China’s role as a contributor to regional and global trade integration” and it is also hoped that its progress can “spur China-US cooperation.”
Former Acting Deputy US Trade Representative, Wendy Cutler was quoted by Nikkei as saying: “China’s application to join the CPTPP is one more data point on why Washington needs to step up its economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific, including on trade.”
Meanwhile, Thailand has also indicated an interest in joining the CPTPP.