China Seeks to Join the Ghost of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

High-rise buildings and viaducts in the financial district of the city, night view of Beijing, China.
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Chinese officials are wooing Japan in hope of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the diminished trade deal established in 2018 as a successor to the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

China sees Japan as the leading force in the CPTPP, which also includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

China’s state-run Global Times on Sunday said that Beijing will “favorably consider” an invitation to join CPTPP, in accordance with its “sturdy commitment to promoting opening-up, multilateralism, and trade globalization,” and would like the incoming Biden administration to consider membership as well, giving the U.S. and China a chance to work out their differences on trade policy.

The Global Times said Japan will need to get its mind right before China bestows that favorable consideration upon CPTPP:

However, it should be noted that Japan’s attitude toward China’s intent is also of great concern. When the US left the TPP, Japan, which accounts for nearly half of the GDP of the CPTPP, became the driving force in salvaging the deal. And, Japan will lead the decision-making mechanism in the CPTPP next year as the chair for 2021.

If China could join the CPTPP, it would mean more tangible trade benefits for the Japanese side. This is because economic exchanges between the two countries may be conducted under higher standards, conducive to the release of bilateral trade potential. The Japanese economy grew 21.4 percent on an annualized basis in the third quarter, its fastest pace since comparable data became available. 

The rebound was mainly attributed to rising external demand, driven by the recovering Chinese economy and other Asian economies. It is conceivable that under higher standards of international trade, trade cooperation between the two major Asian economies will increase. 

The Chinese Communist paper tried to entice Japan with the gains it could realize from developing a more “balanced” relationship with China and the U.S. instead of favoring the latter. This would ostensibly give Japan “a more important role in the Asia-Pacific economic circle,” as well as helping Japan’s economy “rebound from the impact of the pandemic.”

Japan and China announced on Tuesday they have agreed to restart business travel this month after a pause due to the coronavirus and said they would continue talks to resolve their maritime territorial disputes, although Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave little indication that China would yield on its claims to the contested Senkaku Islands.

“We will of course keep protecting our country’s sovereignty. Through the joint effort by both sides, we would like to make the East China Sea the sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” Wang said.  

Japan has expressed interest in expanding CPTPP, possibly to include China, South Korea, Thailand, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. 

Former Chinese commerce minister Chen Deming said in a November 1 forum at Tsinghua University that China should be wary of joining the agreement until it is satisfied that Japan will not be acting as a “proxy for the United States.” Chen also thought Japan might be more focused on getting the U.S. to join the deal.

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