Xi Jinping assures at the APEC summit that there will be no “decoupling” in the bilateral relationship with the US
Two months after the replacement in the White House, and while it awaits clues about the course of the future Joe Biden Administration in the bilateral relationship, China has already begun to move chips on the geostrategic board. After the signing of the largest trade agreement in the world, the RCEP, which does not have the participation of the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to draw his country as the great champion of multilateralism at the international summits that are held these days by videoconference. At the APEC summit, the Asia-Pacific economic cooperation forum, assured this Thursday that there will be no “decoupling”. But the benevolence he shows at the summits contrasts with the harsher mood in more thorny relations: Tensions with Australia, a staunch American ally, have soared this week.
On the Asian chessboard, optics and shapes matter — and a lot — in the conduct of international relations. At the APEC summit, China has scored a new point, after those obtained with the signing of the RCEP last Sunday. The contrast between the two great powers could not be greater. Until the last moment, it was still unclear whether the outgoing US president, Donald Trump, would finally intervene by videoconference. It would be his first participation in this forum since 2017, the only time he has attended this summit during his presidency.
Instead, Xi delivered a broad speech, flaunting multilateralist credentials. “We will not change course or go in the opposite direction through history. There will be no decoupling nor will we form small groups [de países] to exclude others ”, he assured, in an intentional reference to the United States. “Opening ourselves to the outside world is a primary national policy, and we will not relax it at any time,” he promised.
This summit comes at a time of crossroads, when the global economic outlook is uncertain due to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, Asian countries – like the rest of the world, with the notable exception of China – have seen a decline in their activity Beijing is finalizing the details of the plans that by 2025 should turn China into a high-income country and by 2035, into a moderately developed power.
One of the keys to achieving these objectives is the so-called “double circulation” strategy, the development of the internal market – especially through technological innovation – to protect the national economy from the effects of deglobalization and trade tensions with the United States. Although this new model has raised fears that China may move towards a more autarkic system, Beijing insists that a more robust domestic market will contribute to stronger trade relations with the rest of the world. A message that Xi reiterated in his speech and that he will repeat predictably in his speeches at the G20.
“We will further reduce tariffs and institutional costs, develop a series of model zones for innovation and promotion of commercial imports, and expand our imports of high-quality goods and services from other countries,” the Chinese president said.
Following the signing of the RCEP, China wants to hurry to implement it as soon as possible. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Li Keqiang headed a meeting of the State Council, the Chinese government, to start getting it started. “Creating the largest free trade area in the world will help stabilize supply chains and industrial chains,” said Li Keqiang. For his part, the director of the International Market Institute of the Ministry of Commerce, Bai Ming, has pointed out that the application of the pact can accelerate the negotiation of others that Beijing is up to, including the investment treaty with the European Union or the of trilateral free trade with South Korea and Japan.
In the period of political transition in the United States, “opting for trade liberalization is a great positive point for China’s image and probably more relevant in economic terms than any other more aggressive option”, such as gestures towards Taiwan or in the waters in South China Sea dispute, said Alicia García-Herrero, chief economist for Asia at investment bank Natixis, in a note after the signing of the RCEP.
Along with the carrot of promises of unity and cooperation with partner countries, China, increasingly comfortable and assertive in its role as a rising power, also insists that it will not hesitate to use the stick to defend what it considers its key interests . The rod is shaking these days more and more threatening against Australia, a country with which relations had already been deteriorating. This year, Canberra’s demands for an investigation into the origin of the virus, its veto of Chinese 5G and a series of military collaboration agreements with other countries in the area turned the gradual deterioration into a nosedive.
After a series of de facto restrictions on imports of products from the oceanic country, from lobster to iron ore, this week, Chinese diplomats gave several Australian media outlets a document with complaints about 14 areas of the relationship that Beijing requires from Canberra to settle in exchange for ending its business pressures. The document mentions, among other things, critical activities against Beijing by think tanks and the media. “China is angry. If you turn China into an enemy, China will be an enemy, “a Chinese diplomat told a journalist from China. Sidney Morning Herald.