Diplomacy in full swing in new era

Time: 2017-11-24
Editor's note: The leadership of the Communist Party of China has wrapped up its first series of diplomatic efforts after the 19th National Congress of the CPC, which included US President Donald Trump's maiden visit to China, President Xi Jinping's speech at the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Vietnam, and Premier Li Keqiang's deliberations at the ASEAN+China (10+1) leaders' meeting in the Philippines. Three experts share their views on Chinese diplomacy in the "new era" and Asia-Pacific integration with China Daily's Cui Shoufeng. Excerpts follow:
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Zhang Yunling, director of international studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a senior adviser to Pangoal Institute in Beijing

Easier to build East Asian economic community

November has been a month of Asia-Pacific meetings for years, and this year it has been marked by the 25th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, and the 20th ASEAN-China (10+1) leaders' meeting, 20th ASEAN-China, Japan and the Republic of Korea (10+3) leaders' meeting, and the 12th East Asia Summit in Manila, the Philippines.

China, an ardent supporter of regional economic integration, has made strenuous efforts to put the Asia-Pacific region on the fast track to free trade, which include the proposal to build the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific and push for negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

In contrast, the Trump-led United States administration has little interest in pushing for open regional markets or upgrading Asia-Pacific cooperation. Founded in 1989 to practice "open regionalism", the 21-member APEC now accounts for about 40 percent of the global population, 60 percent of global economic output and 48 percent of global trade.

But unlike his predecessor Barack Obama who pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations even at the risk of tearing apart the APEC arrangements, Trump has pulled the US out of the TPP - not to bring Asia-Pacific economies closer but to serve his "America First" policy. Nor has he shown any interest in helping realize the FTAAP.

East Asian cooperation, too, faces new headwinds. The coexistence of multiple mechanisms, including the 18-member East Asia Summit, the 16-member RCEP, and the ASEAN Community based on economic, security and cultural coordination, at times subjects dialogues to meaningless disputes and haggles. It may be easier, however, to build an East Asian economic community since ASEAN members are already on that course and a trilateral FTA between China, Japan and the ROK is in the making.

Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University

Regional integration faces US challenge

The 19th Party Congress concluded less than a month ago, yet Chinese diplomacy, which appears to have adjusted to the "new era", is in full swing. Party-to-party diplomacy now plays a bigger role in improving China's image and interests as well as foreign relations, as proven by many state leaders' congratulatory messages and calls on the success of the 19th Party Congress.

The diplomacy of major-country relationship with Chinese characteristics, too, has begun to bear fruit. Not only did Xi and Trump see the signing of a record US$253.5 billion of business deals, their interaction and personal rapport also struck a promising note for arguably the world's most important bilateral ties. While Xi reiterated Beijing's faith in a community of shared future for humanity during his visit to Vietnam and Laos, Li's visit to the Philippines showed China will make all efforts possible to help shape such a community.

Free trade is still the foundation of Asia-Pacific integration, and China will and has the capability to safeguard it. It is equally important to make security arrangements without political strings attached and granting economies the right to choose their path to free trade.

For the integration to be more inclusive and for multinational mechanisms to reinforce each other, China could use its economic prowess, political influence and decent growth prospects to guide the region, when need be, through uncharted waters. It is also necessary to keep the door open to prospective participants outside the region.

But instead of using "Asia-Pacific" to describe Washington's Asian policy like his recent predecessors did, Trump is using "Indo-Pacific", indicating his administration will seek to build a comprehensive structure in line with US values and long-term interests with India.

How far the possible quadrilateral alliance, which also includes Japan and Australia, will go and its strategic implications for Asia-Pacific economic integration are to be debated. The real intention of Washington is to maintain its regional leadership, mainly through its allies' efforts, which may put a strain on the alliance in the making.

Shen Minghui, an associate professor at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Keep promoting free trade, multilatelarism

Stuck in second gear with Western protectionism on the rise and the world economy in slow recovery, the Asia-Pacific integration process needs more than tariff reduction to move forward. A whirlwind of diplomatic moves after the 19th Party Congress is evidence that China will continue to transition from extensive growth to innovation-driven development, and fulfill its commitment to advance regional integration against all odds.

Apart from endorsing the FTAAP and proposing the Belt and Road Initiative, China holds innovation in high esteem while it eases the limits on foreign ownership of financial services groups, which will allow foreign companies to hold a majority stake in joint ventures with Chinese securities companies and life insurers. "We will grant more powers to pilot free trade zones to conduct reform, and explore the opening of free trade ports", said Xi in a keynote speech at the APEC CEO meeting in Da Nang.

Opening up the financial service sector, in particular, ranks high on the list of the public goods China provides to the international community. But one party alone cannot keep the regional economic cooperation well and alive. Still, by setting an example of experimenting free trade principles, China has kept reversals at bay.

While APEC seems miles away from achieving its 1994 Bogor Goals - of building an area of open trade and investment by 2020 - it is critical to get more economies, particularly the US, on board for other viable alternatives. A trans-Pacific consensus on the FTAAP, for one, would be a promising start.

The Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a plan put together by the remaining 11 TPP members in the absence of Washington, too, may go unfulfilled, as no substantive negotiations have been held. It is more of a backup plan for Washington's return, for which a clear timetable has not yet been set.

And even though the argument that the US is on way to isolationism is weak because of the country's low tariff and vibrant service sector, China should continue promoting multilateralism and free trade while focusing on opening-up experiments at home.

The above news content from China Daily.

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