China to push for more trade pacts to strengthen global economic influence

Foreign minister highlights regional deals as the country seeks to move beyond territorial disputes with its neighbours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 9:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 December, 2013, 4:48pm

Beijing is expected to focus on building economic ties overseas by pushing a series of regional trade pacts in the months ahead as the country tries to increase its influence over the way the global economy is governed.

Beijing may put further stress on economic co-operation when dealing with nations it has territorial disputes with, reducing the barriers for the trade agreements, analysts said.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a forum on Monday that economic diplomacy would be one of the five major focuses of Chinese diplomatic affairs next year, along with improving relationships with the United States and other major powers.

Several initiatives, such as wrapping up the negotiations for a free-trade zone with Japan and Korea, would be advanced, Wang said. He also said China was open to other regional trade pacts, such as the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"We will also proactively participate in the reform of international economic governance mechanisms, raising China's stake in the formulation of rules and giving the nation more say," he said.

A statement issued after the Communist Party's central economic work conference last week said China aims to further adjust its economic structure, enhancing its competitiveness overseas and "maintaining friendly political relationships and favourable economic and trade rules".

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have signed more than 800 co-operation agreements with 22 countries this year, mostly trade and investment deals. An international economic co-operation office was set up under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last year.

"The move signifies that the foreign ministry is more involved in formulating policies that deal with trade and investment with other nations," said He Maochun, director of the Research Centre for Economic Diplomacy Studies at Tsinghua University.

He said China needed to consolidate its presence in overseas markets as it continues reforms to produce healthy growth.

Professor Su Hao, at the China Foreign Affairs University, said China would push forward the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trade agreement between the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states and their six free-trade partners. China was also interested in other regional initiatives, such as an economic corridor linking it to Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

But these efforts may be hampered by lingering tensions between China and its neighbours, especially Japan, which is locking horns with Beijing over disputed waters in the East China Sea.

The US may also feel unease with China's efforts and try to counter Beijing's initiatives, according to Su. Japan has joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which does not include China.

"China is likely to send a message that it can still discuss economic matters even though there are territorial disputes, and it can even discuss security co-operation," Su said.

He Maochun said there were many government agencies responsible for economic diplomacy, such as the Commerce Ministry and the People's Bank of China, and their responsibilities should be clearly spelled out.