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Will China join TPP is not the question

By Ling Shengli | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-20 07:36

Will China join TPP is not the question

Trade ministers of the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries attend a press conference after negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in Atlanta, the United States, on Oct 5, 2015. [Photo/Xinhua]

Some people are still debating whether China would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement despite the Foreign Ministry recently making it clear that Beijing has not changed its stance on the TPP even after the United States' withdrawal from the economic grouping.

The two main impressions the Chinese people have about the TPP are: It is the previous US administration's design to "contain" China, and the US President Donald Trump believes it would be drain on the US economy and therefore has "abandoned" it. And that the TPP could be an economic burden on China, if were to join it, is precisely why many Chinese people are worried; some even believe that by joining the TPP, China could fall into the "trap" of US diplomatic strategy.

While negotiating economic arrangements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, China has been promoting inclusive growth in the Asia-Pacific region. So it is possible that China will cooperate with the TPP for that purpose, but that does not mean it might join the economic bloc.

Of course, there is a possibility of coordination between the RCEP and the TPP. As the two main cooperative arrangements in the Asia-Pacific, the RCEP and the TPP are not at odds with each other. Several signatory countries to the TPP, including Japan, Australia and Singapore, also support the RCEP. It shows the two arrangements are not zero-sum games.

Besides, the RCEP and the TPP both aim to promote economic and trade cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, though their rules and access conditions are different. If they are opposed to each other, the result would be economic disintegration in the Asia-Pacific, which would not be beneficial to any of the parties.

As the largest trade partner of many countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific, China is rather influential in the region and one cannot imagine any cooperative economic or trade arrangement without China. Therefore, many of the countries and regions in the Asia-Pacific prefer not to choose between the TPP and the RCEP; all they want is to avoid being isolated or excluded from the future economic groupings.

That is in accordance with China's call for openness and inclusiveness. By promoting the RCEP, China does not intend to build a closed economic circle; instead, it has an open attitude toward TPP members and welcomes them to participate in the RCEP and FTAAP.

But since the TPP's earlier leadership excluded China from its plans, Beijing lacks a detailed understanding of TPP regulations and its members' interests. And China needs to better understand other economies' interests and primary concerns, in order to get their support to develop a more inclusive Asia-Pacific cooperation arrangement.

Still, the chance of China joining, let alone leading the TPP, is small, because some of the rules are not in accordance with its interests. But China is ready to hear out TPP member countries' concerns to help pave the way for an early agreement on free trade in the Asia-Pacific.

The author is secretary-general at the Center of International Security Studies, China Foreign Affairs University.

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