BEIJING / SINGAPORE – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday said China is ready to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, in a move that could bolster the country’s presence in Asia as the United States focuses on its presidential transition .
China “will favorably consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Xi said, referring to the 11-member trade pact, at a virtual summit for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.
Twenty-one countries, including Japan, China, the United States, Canada, South Korea and Indonesia, took part in the APEC summit.
His remarks signaled that China plans to play a greater economic role in the region as the United States withdraws from multilateral trade frameworks. President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the TPP as part of his “America First” strategy.
The Chinese leader also praised the regional comprehensive economic partnership, a long-sought trade pact that 15 countries, including China, Japan and South Korea, signed over the previous weekend.
This is the first time Xi has commented on joining the TPP, a renamed CPTPP deal after leaving the United States. The pact entered into force at the end of 2018 and includes countries such as Japan, Australia and Singapore.
China’s entry into the TPP would make Xi’s government a member of the two largest trade deals in the Asia-Pacific region, while Washington is not a member of either.
“We must remain as determined as ever to support the multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization within it, to promote free and open trade and investment, and to make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial. for all, ”Xi said. “Continued efforts are needed to advance regional economic integration,” he added.
A day earlier, Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said China would adopt “an open and positive attitude” to the idea of joining the TPP. Xi also spoke out against rising protectionism at an event leading up to the summit.
Other APEC leaders also discussed the need to maintain free trade and investment even amid the coronavirus pandemic on Friday.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pushed for new members to join the TPP and called for the creation of a free trade framework across Asia-Pacific. He stressed the importance of digital transformation and technological advancements to pull the global economy out of the funk induced by the coronavirus.
APEC, which accounts for around 60% of the world’s gross domestic product, “plays a central role in post-pandemic economic recovery,” said Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who chaired the summit. Trump also attended the event.
APEC leaders released their first joint statement in three years at the end of the meeting, which included a call for cooperation within the bloc to respond to the pandemic and develop vaccines.
The countries “will cooperate to facilitate the movement of essential goods and services, as well as the essential safe movement of people,” the statement said.
The bloc did not issue a statement in 2018 due to tensions between the United States and China, and in 2019 after Chile’s withdrawal from its host. But the latest summit signaled that the bloc, which shares many members with the RCEP, was starting to unite behind the banner of free trade. APEC could use the new trade agreement and the TPP as building blocks for greater economic integration.
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