China has formally applied to join an Asia-Pacific free trade group that originally aimed to counter Beijing’s regional influence.
Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao announced that he had submitted China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in a letter to New Zealand’s Minister of Commerce and Export Growth, which acts as the depositary of the CPTPP.
the world times called it a “historic” decision and said China’s bid to join the trade group “consolidates the country’s leadership in global trade” and leaves the United States “increasingly isolated.”
The CPTPP was originally promoted by former President Barack Obama and was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan and New Zealand in 2018. The group was previously known as name of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and “considered an important economic counterweight to China’s regional influence”, Reuters reported.
In 2017, then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the group. Joe Biden has yet to join the free trade group.
Meanwhile, the statement said the two ministers held a teleconference to discuss relevant follow-up work after China’s official bid.
Local Chinese media called the move “another giant step” after the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
China’s request to join the CPTPP comes a day after the US, UK and Australia formed a new defense-focused group in the Indo-Pacific known as AUKUS , intended to counter Beijing.
Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Commerce said the country was “actively carrying out a study on issues related to CPTPP membership”.
Gao Lingyun, an expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the world times that “this decision is a significant development for China’s involvement in the conclusion of international economic and trade agreements” and added that it “tends to put China in a better position to decide on future trade rules”.
The agreement should also “complement existing national efforts to deepen reform and opening-up”, Gao said.
If China joins the group – this already includes Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam; Britain is negotiating to join the group – this would quadruple the total population within the group to some two billion people, Associated Press reported.
Song Wei, a researcher at the China Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a think tank under the Ministry of Commerce, told the world times that the filing of the application is indicative of: “China’s unwavering stance on opening up global trade despite the rise of global trade protectionism which is being fanned by the long tail of Covid-19”.
Ms. Song also noted that the trade deal is “envisaged to cement China’s role as a contributor to regional and global trade integration” and it is also hoped that its progress can “boost China-US cooperation”.
Former Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler was quoted by Nikkei saying, “China’s request to join the CPTPP is yet another data point on why Washington needs to step up its economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific, including on trade.”
Meanwhile, Thailand has also expressed interest in joining the CPTPP.