The Business Times

Washington and Beijing hold the key to Asia-Pacific trade integration

Published Tue, Nov 11, 2014 · 09:50 PM

THIS week's Apec Summit in Beijing has revealed some deep-seated divergences between members of the 21-nation grouping. The meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - their first since 2012 - has been hailed as an ice-breaker after two years of searing bilateral tensions, but little progress was made during their talks. That relations remain frosty was reflected even in the grim expressions of the two leaders, captured on camera.

The world also watched the cautious interactions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit, as tensions between their countries remain high over disagreements on the new regime in Ukraine, among other issues. There were however some positives that emerged from the meeting of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. South Korea announced that it had effectively reached a free trade agreement (FTA) with China. China also took a substantial step in ensuring peace in the region by agreeing with Vietnam to use dialogue to address their maritime disputes.

However, it is not unjustified to say that the bulk of this progress has been overshadowed by the clash of two more powerhouses during the summit - the United States and China - over the evolving economic architecture of the region. During the summit, China proposed and advocated a new trade deal, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which is seen to rival the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP includes 12 countries but China is conspicuously absent from the list of negotiating parties. US analysts have suggested the Chinese proposal is an attempt to limit the US pivot towards Asia, while Chinese commentators have argued the TPP and the US attempts to block the Chinese trade proposal are aimed at checking China's growing clout in the region.

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