For China to join Pacific trade pact, hurdles are high — as they should be

Is China willing to accept the high standards of trade liberalization required by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership? Proving this through actions is a major prerequisite for joining the trade pact.

The Chinese government has announced that it has formally applied to join the TPP trade pact, which consists of 11 countries, including Japan, Australia and Canada.

Amid deepening confrontation with the United States, China is probably aiming to take a leading role in Asian trade and commerce.

The ministerial-level TPP Commission of the 11 member countries will decide whether or not to begin the process of approving membership. If it gives the green light, the process will move to a working group for detailed negotiations, although the approval by all participating countries will be required for both starting negotiations and joining the trade pact.

It is important that the members take a stern stance toward China.

In addition to eliminating tariffs on nearly 100% of items, the TPP agreement sets out strict rules for the protection of intellectual property rights, the free flow of data and restrictions on unfair subsidies to state-owned enterprises. For China to join the pact, it must first accept these conditions.

Currently, China is said to be distorting competition with subsidies that favor state-owned enterprises. It has also been criticized for its data protectionism, which seeks to keep data within the country. If this continues, there is no room for China to earn TPP membership.

It was in November last year that Chinese President Xi Jinping first revealed that China was considering joining the TPP, but China’s actions since then have gone against the basic principles of the TPP agreement, which aims for fair trade, as well as the global trend of emphasizing human rights.

In retribution to Australia’s request for an investigation into the source of the novel coronavirus outbreak, China has continued to exert pressure by imposing high tariffs on imported goods.

In Hong Kong, China has repeatedly committed acts that disregard the rule of law and human rights, such as taking away local freedoms in violation of its international pledge to guarantee a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years after regaining sovereignty of the territory.

Under these circumstances, even if China were to verbally pledge that it accepts the rules of the TPP, it would not gain trust.

There is also a view that China knows that and has applied to join the TPP, with the aim of causing discord among member countries in the debate over China’s entry.

As this year’s chair of the trade pact, Japan must take the initiative and actively coordinate its views with the participating countries.

Britain has also applied to join the TPP. The country, which shares the values of freedom and democracy, is a valuable partner in dealing with China. Japan should do its utmost to help Britain join the TPP as soon as possible. It is also important for Japan to persistently urge the United States to join.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 18, 2021.