Freer trade will benefit Asia-Pacific – Opinion –
Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech via video at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Beijing on Nov 13, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]
Editor’s note: Premier Li Keqiang is taking part in a series of East Asian cooperation meetings via video links from Thursday to Sunday. Will the meetings boost regional cooperation and free trade? Two experts share their views with China Daily’s Pan Yixuan. Excerpts follow:
Focus on stabilizing supply chains
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have held several meetings on how to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic. New issues to be discussed in the meetings could include COVID-19 vaccines－China being one of the countries leading the race to develop a vaccine.
Besides, since many countries including China and ASEAN member states have said the RCEP would be signed at the end of 2020 or early 2021, people pin high hopes on the possible inking of the mega trade agreement among 15 Asia-Pacific economies during the meetings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global production, global supply chains, international communications and people-to-people exchanges, affecting global development and highlighting the hidden problems of globalization. And the fact that stabilizing the supply chains is high on the meetings’ agendas shows Asian countries are seeking to transform the regional industrial structure.
What the market needs now is stable supply chains and win-win coordination. Although the United States has been coercing and/or bribing other countries to “eliminate” China from the global supply chains, it will not succeed in its designs because supply chains based on win-win cooperation cannot be easily disintegrated. So there is no need to be excessively concerned about other countries trying to reduce their dependence on China by “separating” it from the global supply chains.
The world has realized the shortcomings of supply chains with too many subdivisions, especially because some production processes are highly reliant on a few countries, as industrial security has become an increasingly important issue for all countries. East Asian countries, for example, rely on the US for some vital products and technologies. But by resorting to unilateralism and protectionism, the US has forced East Asian countries to adjust their industrial structure and look for new sources of supplies, which ironically could boost regional cooperation.
Japan has taken measures to encourage Japanese companies to “reshore”, or move their operations back home. And China, through the “dual circulation” development pattern, intends to shift the focus of enterprises from making low-cost products mainly for exports to new technology development in order to expand the domestic market.
Such adjustments are a natural choice for countries to guard against another sudden economic crisis. And since joint efforts are needed to resolve regional and global issues, East Asian countries are trying to find new ways to boost regional cooperation, which will also promote multilateralism.
Zhang Yunling, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Multilateral cooperation deepens in region
Since the countries attending the meetings from Thursday to Sunday account for a large part of the Asia-Pacific region, any regional economic cooperation agreement they ink will have an impact on a large percentage of the world’s population and global GDP.
While some countries continue to resort to unilateralism, the pandemic has once again shown multilateral cooperation is necessary to cope with regional and global challenges. As the pandemic is still raging in many parts of the world, East Asian countries are likely to discuss what new joint measures they can take to contain the spread of the virus before effective vaccines hit the market.
Yet the spotlight is on the RCEP, which China, Japan, the ROK, Australia, New Zealand and the 10 ASEAN member states are expected to sign during the four-day meetings, because the free trade agreement would cover 30 percent of the world’s population and account for just under 30 percent of global GDP. More importantly, the signing of the RCEP will boost multilateral cooperation and thereby help accelerate global economic recovery.
Considering that floods have caused huge damage in Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar and the Philippines, regional coordination on disaster prevention, and rescue and relief operations could be one of the focuses of the meetings. Lockdowns and other strict anti-pandemic measures have necessitated discussions on the digital economy, too. The rapid growth of the digital economy has sparked heated debates on issues such as national security risks in the transnational flow of data. So the leaders are also likely to discuss digital economy supervision and risk prevention measures to offset the potential security risks.
And by being part of the regional mechanism, China will not only strengthen cooperation but also contribute to promoting multilateralism with the aim of boosting regional development and global economic recovery.
Song Qingrun, an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University
The views don’t necessarily represent those of China Daily.
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