China says trade pact application unrelated to Aukus as Japan highlights strict requirements

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday (Sept 17) that China’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is totally unrelated to a recently formed Indo-Pacific security alliance.

In an arrangement dubbed Aukus, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

China said on Thursday that it had filed an application to join the CPTPP trade pact, from which the Donald Trump administration withdrew in 2017.

Former Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, a contender to become next premier, said on Friday it was necessary to watch carefully if China, which seeks to join a Pacific free trade pact, is able to meet stringent requirements for its members.

“Japan must look properly at whether it is ready to reach the high level of TPP,” Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu said regarding China’s application.

“We will confer with other member countries and deal with this, taking into account strategic issues,” he said in Tokyo on Friday, adding that Britain’s pending application would be dealt with first.

Britain had applied to join the CPTPP and is seeking to conclude talks to join by the end of 2022, former British trade secretary Liz Truss said in August.

Japanese Finance Minister Aso Taro also expressed doubt that China could meet the requirements.

“Is China in a state where it can join?” he said on Friday in Tokyo. “From the perspective of the 11 nations that will be accepting new members, right now, we’re just at the point of asking, ‘Are we going to do this? Really?'”

Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao submitted the application to join the free trade agreement in a letter to New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Thursday.

New Zealand is the depository nation for the agreement.

Mr Wang and Mr O’Connor held a telephone conference to discuss the next steps following China’s application, the ministry added.

The CPTPP ranks third among the largest free trade agreements behind the US$26 trillion (S$35 trillion) Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the US$21.1 trillion US-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

China’s addition to the CPTPP would make it the most valuable free trade agreement ever signed.

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