The signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade pact which excludes the United States, is a new beginning for China to enhance its economic sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific. While its immediate impact might be small, the fact that China, Japan, South Korea, the Asean bloc nations, Australia and New Zealand have signed the deal is a win for Beijing amid a push from the US for decoupling . The deal also shows trade and investment flows between China and the world can be boosted without touching on thorny issues, ranging from ideological differences to state-owned enterprises. After the deal comes into effect, China’s risk of losing relevance in international value chains will diminish. The threat from the rival Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership ( CPTPP ), which excludes China, can be mitigated even if the US joins under Joe Biden’s presidency. The Economic Prosperity Network, a US-led economic alliance with partners of “shared values”, will find it harder to isolate China. And Taiwan, which has pushed to integrate new supply chains with the US, European Union and Japan, will find it more difficult to escape the mainland’s economic orbit. In short, the deal may have killed the idea China can be isolated in the global economy In short, the deal may have killed the idea China can be isolated in the global economy. But more importantly, it indicates the 15 signatories are willing to give the initiative a go against the backdrop of increasing China-US rivalry. China was not the initiator of RCEP and it would be an oversimplification to call it “China-led”. But it shows the nation can play a growing role in regional trade when the US is not at the table. Economically, the benefits to China are not clear . In fact, it could suffer through things like reduced tariffs on Japanese and Korean cars competing against local alternatives, or growing relocation of labour-intensive manufacturing to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. It is also an open question if the pact will be honoured. After all, a free-trade deal between China and Australia has not stopped Beijing taking trade action against Canberra. But China will reap long-term strategic gains without direct meddling from the US, and the deal creates possibilities for the country to assume regional economic leadership. To borrow a line from Winston Churchill, for China, this deal is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.