Too early to say China intends to join TPP - state media

Although a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China was "proactively studying" participation in a meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) nations scheduled to take place in Chile this week, it cannot be interpreted as a sign that Beijing is interested in joining the international trade deal, the Global Times said in an editorial on Monday.

"The logic of the view that China will replace the US as a 'new head' to lead the TPP is too simple ... China has no ability and interest in modifying the TPP, which was used by the Obama administration as an economic tool to fuel its rebalance to Asia Pacific strategy, into a geopolitical leverage against Washington," the editorial said.

Apparently, China has not decided whether to join the TPP or leave it aside, but it will stick to the principle of "advocating trade liberalization and regional economic cooperation" and "be open to any regional cooperation mechanisms", according to the editorial.

Beijing's ambiguity toward the TPP could be seen at a press conference during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, on Saturday. At the news conference, Commerce Minister Zhong Shan skipped a question raised by a Bloomberg reporter about Beijing's attitude toward joining the TPP after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the multinational trade agreement.

The ambivalent attitude is linked with a lack of agreement among other TPP nations about China's inclusion into the trade bloc, while Beijing is still studying the impact of some strict TPP standards targeting China.

However, the editorial pointed out that most countries will substantially maintain a sound trade relationship with China and the world's inclusive trade organizations will accept China because Beijing supports fair trade and is against politicization of economic issues, labeling the US' exit from the TPP as a "unilateral move to seek more interests for itself", which is not recognized by any international trade organization.

The editorial further said that China could be a bellwether in popularizing free trade, which has become a consensus among the global governments, hinting that a possibility of China and the US reaching an agreement on trade still exists.

"The future of the TPP and whether China will join it would be determined by how the interests of all parties involved will be met," the editorial concluded.

It is reported that representatives from the TPP nations, plus China, South Korea and Colombia, will discuss at the Chile meeting a wide range of economic issues including the TPP and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a Beijing-backed trade deal which is under negotiation.

In a recent interview with Reuters, Paulina Nazal, Chile's head of international trade, admitted that it was still premature to say what the future roadmap would look like. But she stressed that what she has seen from the various delegations is that "it is too open still".

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