China’s CPTPP Move Puts U.S. Trade Policy on Back Foot



Bryce Baschuk | Bloomberg News

At the beginning of 2021 Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined an ambitious vision for asserting China’s role in the post-pandemic global recovery.

In January, Xi told the World Economic Forum he plans to “unleash the potential of the huge China market and enormous domestic demand” in order to “give further impetus to global economic recovery and growth.”

Eight months later, Xi took a big step toward putting those words into action by formally requesting to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.

The goal of the $13.5 trillion trade agreement, which was originally spearheaded by the U.S. and subsequently revived after former President Donald Trump’s 2017 withdrawal from it, is to create a western-led alliance to counterbalance China’s economic might in the Pacific region.

So, what should trade observers make of China’s move last week to join an agreement that was ostensibly designed to isolate it?

First and foremost, the accession bid is a short-term tactical move that demonstrates China’s commitment to free trade and bolsters Xi’s pledge to be more assertive in international rule making. It also doesn’t hurt that Xi’s move now puts the U.S. on the back foot by drawing attention to the fact that the Biden administration lacks a comprehensive economic strategy for Asia.

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