China Dismisses Bid to Create New Trans-Pacific Trade Pact

By Chuin-Wei Yap Features Dow Jones Newswires

DA NANG, Vietnam -- China dismissed the progress announced Saturday by major Pacific Rim economies toward a new trade pact that excludes Beijing, describing it as unimportant and troubled by internal divisions.

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The comments by Zhang Jun, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's department of international economic affairs, came at the close of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, where China advanced its vision of a multilateral trade agenda, in contrast to the bilateral emphasis taken by the Trump administration.

Eleven countries at the 21-member summit engaged in separate discussions on creating a new version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping pact that had been spearheaded by the U.S. but was abandoned by President Donald Trump. The nations, including Japan, Mexico and Canada, said that they had made progress but that disagreements remained, including over automotives and coal.

"We've noticed the TPP-11, which happened outside the APEC agenda, and we've noted that it has internal negotiation issues," Mr. Zhang told a media briefing. "China does not pay it much attention nor have much interest in it."

Beijing tried for years to block the TPP, a signature policy of former President Barack Obama and his pivot to Asia. Mr. Trump said it hurt U.S. economic interests and the U.S.'s withdrawal opened the way for China to assume greater trade leadership in the region. Its revival, even in a smaller version, could again present a challenge to Beijing.

"It demonstrates that TPP members want to avoid China being in every regional cooperation arrangement," said Iris Pang, Greater China economist for ING Bank NV. "This is a gesture to say: 'We have our own decision-making process.' China has to see this as a warning signal that regional members feel that China could be imposing its leadership on them."

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Mr. Zhang, using language that has over the years become diplomatic code for Beijing's objections to its exclusion, warned that "all regional trade arrangements within Asia should uphold openness and not make it an exclusive small circle."

He said Beijing's own multilateral trade-deal proposals proceed apace and wouldn't be affected by TPP. Though he stopped short of rejecting the legitimacy of a TPP agreement, he emphasized that APEC hasn't given the negotiating group its blessing, though none is necessary.

"There is no reference to it" in the summit's final declaration, he said.

A day earlier, President Xi Jinping portrayed China as a defender of globalization and free trade in the Asia-Pacific. Some of his comments were at odds with those of Mr. Trump, who at the same forum repeatedly used the term "Indo-Pacific," a reference to India -- not an APEC member -- that some saw as a veiled threat to draw in a large ally that could complicate China's regional role.

Mr. Zhang played down Mr. Trump's remarks.

"Trump did not say it to be against China, so I don't have to feel like it was said that way," he said.

Write to Chuin-Wei Yap at chuin-wei.yap@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 11, 2017 09:58 ET (14:58 GMT)