Japan said it would have to determine if China meets the “extremely high standards” of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) after the world’s second-biggest economy formally applied to join.
Commerce Minister Wang Wentao submitted China’s application to join the free trade agreement in a letter to New Zealand’s trade minister, Damien O’Connor, the Chinese ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.
The CPTPP was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan and New Zealand in 2018.
Before that, it was known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s regional influence.
Japan, the CPTPP’s chair this year, said it will consult with member countries to respond to China’s request, but stopped short of signaling a timeline for doing so.
“Japan believes that it’s necessary to determine whether China, which submitted a request to join the TPP-11, is ready to meet its extremely high standards,” Japanese Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters on Friday.
The TPP was central to former US President Barack Obama’s strategic pivot to Asia but his successor, Donald Trump, withdrew the United States from the pact in 2017.
Accession to the CPTPP would be a major boost for China following the signing of the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) free trade agreement last year.
Beijing has lobbied for its inclusion in the pact, including by highlighting that the Chinese and Australian economies have enormous potential for cooperation. However, relations between the two countries have soured.
In a new alliance dubbed AUKUS announced this week, the United States and Britain said they will provide Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, in a move seen as aimed at countering China’s influence in the Pacific.
Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Friday that the application to join CPTPP was “completely unrelated” to AUKUS.
China is pushing for regional integration while AUKUS countries are “promoting war and destruction,” he added at a briefing in Beijing.
Taiwan, which has also been angling to join the pact, expressed concern about China’s decision to apply.
China claims Taiwan as its own territory and will not be pleased if Taipei is allowed to join the grouping before Beijing.
Britain in June began negotiations to enter the trade pact, while Thailand has also signaled interest in joining it.
Wang and O’Connor held a telephone conference to discuss the next steps following China’s application, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said.