China really had its hands full this weekend. As the country faced conflicts with neighboring Myanmar at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Lima, Peru, discussing new trade deals with world leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit.
The summit follows the shocking election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States. Trump has promised to kill the Obama-backed Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), an act that could dramatically alter America’s place in the world economy. China is now looking to fill that place by asserting its own considerable economic power in the Asia-Pacific region.
During his speech to the summit’s delegates, Xi pushed for a more open economy, increased collaboration, and further economic development in the Asia-Pacific region. He also met with President Barack Obama and emphasized the importance of US-China relations as Obama’s unlikely successor is set to take office in a mere two months.
“I hope that [the U.S. and China] will work together to focus on co-operation, manage our differences, and make sure there is a smooth transition in the relationship and that it will continue to grow,” Xi said in a meeting with Obama, according to the Financial Times.
At the same time, state media slammed Trump for his stated desires to ditch or renegotiate America’s free trade agreements.
“Turning his trade-bashing campaign talks into actual policies could bash any hope that the Asia-Pacific will finally have its much-wanted free trade deal,” said a commentary in the official Xinhua news agency on Saturday. “Worse, it could drag his country and the wider world into deeper economic distress.”
That’s Communist Party-controlled media lecturing the US president-elect on the benefits of free trade and capitalism. Welcome to Bizarro World.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) November 19, 2016
Speaking to world economic leaders, Xi highlighted two possible alternatives to the TPP: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). Xi has been working with 16 other countries, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in formulating the RCEP. Bloomberg notes that although the RCEP was proposed by ASEAN in 2012, it has gained more attention recently in light of the TPP’s increasingly-likely downfall.
According to the South China Morning Post, the RCEP, which China leads, aims to establish one market among the member countries by doing away with tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Compared to the TPP, the RCEP might be less stringent on environmental and labor protections. The US is not currently included in the deal.
In contrast, the FTAAP, which includes the US, China, and the other APEC nations, voices a broader trade deal than both the TPP and the RCEP, according to The New York Times.
Representatives from around the world seemed receptive to Xi’s proposed trade deals. “It fills us with optimism to see that China, one of the world powers, believes in the market, believes in competition … as a mechanism for development,” said Mario Mongilardi, president of the Lima Chamber of Commerce, in an interview with Xinhua post-Summit.
According to The Economist, China struck deals with several Latin American countries in promoting bilateral trade and investment. But, The Wall Street Journal points out that Beijing still needs to completely gain the trust of government leaders in Latin America.
Buena suerte, Xi Jinping!
By Abby Ordillas