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Larger states should work to harmonize regulatory practices and achieve greater regional economic integration in Asia-Pacific

By ANDREW WILFORD | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-23 07:58
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Li Min/China Daily

Larger states should work to harmonize regulatory practices and achieve greater regional economic integration in Asia-Pacific

Increasing geopolitical tensions and challenges to globalization make regional cooperation more important now than ever. Yet how this can be achieved remains unclear. Working to improve bilateral relations across the region is one way to support multilateral efforts to enhance the prospects for sustained cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific region is a vital engine for global economic growth. The various regional economic agreements, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and "Indo-Pacific" Economic Framework for Prosperity, all attest to its importance. However, further efforts to harmonize regulatory practices and achieve greater regional economic integration will require significant political effort to nurture the conditions for cooperation.

China, Japan and the United States, the largest regional economies, play a crucial role and lead efforts to create commonly agreed-upon rules of cooperation. These rules help support smaller states to navigate the challenging geopolitical environment.

Many states are reconsidering their strategic priorities moving into the post-pandemic world, and in this context, it is not desirable for them to ignore challenges in their bilateral relations. It is also essential to be mindful of how such challenges are addressed.

For smaller states, commonly agreed-upon rules and norms help them protect their national interests. Sensitivity to their unique conditions and aspirations helps avoid interpreting their behavior through the prism of competition between the larger powers.

The region's economic powers should better recognize the impact of their actions on smaller states and work to reduce tensions at regional and sub-regional levels. This is important for furthering economic multilateralism in the region. Dialogue is key, as is a willingness to make concessions for the greater good.

The China-New Zealand bilateral relationship is an example that shows how clearly delineated areas of engagement and cooperation have served both sides without giving rise to friction. Both countries have worked to build areas of complementarity while constructively engaging in dialogue around areas of difference. Reciprocity, respect and forthright dialogue form the bedrock of this "mature relationship".

This approach extends to regional cooperation efforts, which both countries have sought to strengthen.

Important efforts such as the APEC Aotearoa Plan of Action to implement the Putrajaya Vision 2040 reaffirm a commitment to an "open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful "Asia-Pacific. By following these principles, regional states can further economic integration and advance people-to-people exchanges.

The CPTPP is another grouping representing the highest standard of plurilateral trade agreements and a vital mechanism to enhance regional resilience and dynamism. It, too, is a means of overcoming regional economic and political headwinds.

Former New Zealand prime minister Chris Hipkins welcomed China's application to join the CPTPP during a visit to Beijing in June 2023. This underscores the importance of trust and confidence at the bilateral level for maintaining economic integration momentum at the regional level.

China has also sought to demonstrate its commitment to these high standards. In 2023, it took steps to implement standards consistent with the CPTPP in several free trade zones. This is a promising sign, including efforts to ensure equal conditions for foreign and domestic firms and relaxing software source code regulations.

Whether these measures are implemented nationally remains to be seen. Successfully doing so would play an important role in shaping external perceptions of China's willingness to abide by CPTPP standards. Similarly, careful management of frictions with Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia and the recent signs of relations getting back on track, create positive momentum at the regional level.

To maintain this momentum, larger powers should work collaboratively to further regional economic cooperation efforts to provide more stability and predictability for all countries in the region.

First, existing economic exchanges should be strengthened.

By implementing rigorous standards with selected bilateral partners on a mutually agreed basis, it would be possible to demonstrate capability and willingness at the regional level. Making concessions around tariffs and facilitating market access would build trust and signal a solid commitment to addressing regional issues.

Second, diplomatic dialogue should be enhanced.

Frequent leader visits and ministerial dialogues signal the importance of a relationship and inject impetus into cooperation. Frank and forthright discussions enable all sides to share their perspectives while mitigating potential miscommunication. This extends beyond the bilateral to multilateral relationships, creating ripe conditions for regional cooperation.

Third, regional concerns should be addressed.

Collaborative dialogue on pressing issues such as climate change and energy security in existing and newly created forums builds the trust necessary to work collaboratively on thorny issues while also addressing problems that all states are facing.

The Asia-Pacific region's importance to the world economy cannot be overstated. The commitment by states to regional cooperation through existing agreements and emerging partnerships should be enhanced as a counterweight to growing geopolitical challenges.

Small states are both reliant on regional collaboration and play a crucial role in fostering it. However, it is only with the support of the larger states that the region can come together through dialogue and pragmatism to ensure that regional cooperation remains resilient in the face of global uncertainties.

The author is a researcher at the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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