China again expressed its willingness to join an 11-nation Pacific region trade pact on Thursday amid escalating tensions with the United States. Last week, Premier Li Keqiang said that China was willing to consider joining the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP), a deal which emerged after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017. “For regional free trade agreements, including CPTPP, China has a positive, open and welcoming attitude,” said Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng, citing the fact that agreements like the CPTPP are in line with World Trade Organisation rules as a key factor. The CPTPP is a trade agreement, signed in March 2018, between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. China’s ability to join the CPTPP is still seen as a long shot, since Beijing would find it hard to meet a number of the pact’s requirements, including the free flow of information and minimum labour standards. However, China has found a new urgency to join the regional trade pact as a counterbalance to increasing US efforts to align with its trading partners and reduce China’s role in global value chains. The Trump administration is pushing an economic initiative, the Economic Prosperity Network, with its trading partners, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Korea and Vietnam, to remove or limit China’s participation in global industrial supply chains as a way to punish it for its alleged mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. Former US president Barack Obama had given strong support to the TPP as a regional free trade counterbalance to the growing influence of China’s top-down economic model. Trump, however, pulled the US out of the pact immediately after he entered the White House, calling it a bad deal for the US. Many analysts agreed that Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the TPP was a strategic gift to Beijing. China has been pinning its hopes on a larger regional trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), however, continued disagreements have plagued negotiations, even as the terms of the deal have been watered down. India opted out of RCEP in November 2019, leaving Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Beijing hopes that RCEP can be finalised by the end of this year, although the deadline for completion has already been delayed numerous times.