RCEP meet: ASEAN members, partners reaffirm their resolve to conclude free trade deal talks


The 16 negotiating partners have agreed that they should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the value chains in the RCEP

Joe C Mathew New Delhi Last Updated: September 8, 2019 | 22:30 IST

Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal during the plenary session of the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok on Sunday.

The 7th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ministerial meeting of the 10 members of ASEAN countries and their six FTA (free trade agreement) partners, including India, said the ongoing global uncertainties have added to the urgency to conclude the mega free trade agreement between these nations. The joint statement issued after the meeting, which reviewed the RCEP negotiations on September 8 in Bangkok, Thailand, said the 16 negotiating partners agreed that they should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the value chains in the RCEP.

The RCEP underscored issues raised by India by stating that certain developments in the global trade environment might affect the negotiating countries’ individual positions. “The ministers underscored the RCEP will provide the much-needed stability and certainty to the market, which will in turn boost trade and investment in the region. To this end, ministers reaffirmed their collective resolve to bring negotiations to a conclusion,” the joint statement said.

“The ministers recognised that negotiations have reached a critical milestone. Notwithstanding the remaining challenges in the negotiations, the RCEP participating countries are working on addressing outstanding issues that are fundamental to conclude the agreement this year as mandated by the leaders,” it stated. The meeting, held to review developments in the RCEP negotiations since the ministers last met in Beijing on August 2-3, was chaired by Jurin Laksanawisit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce of Thailand.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and its six partners (China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand).

Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s economic wing, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, has asked the Centre not to sacrifice the interests of key industries like agriculture, diary and manufacturing. “We firmly believe that national interests especially of agriculture, dairy, manufacturing will not be sacrificed at RCEP Meet. #SayNoToRCEP & Renegotiate ASEAN FTA, which is imperative for protecting agriculture & mfg,” SJM Co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan tweeted.

Source: businesstoday.in “RCEP meet: ASEAN members, partners reaffirm their resolve to conclude free trade deal talks”

Note: This is businesstoday.in’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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RCEP expected to be finalised by year-end: ASEAN General Secretary


Update: August, 01/2019 – 17:31

ASEAN General Secretary Dato Lim Jock Hoi delivers a speech at the 3rd ASEAN Media Forum held in Bangkok on July 29. — Photos courtesy of ASEAN Secretariat

Ngọc Bích

BANGKOK — ASEAN General Secretary Dato Lim Jock Hoi has expressed his optimism over the likelihood that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between 10 ASEAN member countries and six partners will be finalised by the end of the year.

RCEP is considered the world’s largest regional trade agreement as it covers a market of almost half of the world’s population and around one third of global gross domestic product.

There are 27 rounds of RCEP negotiations over the past seven years but “we don’t want to go beyond that, if we don’t do it this year, it will be very difficult for us to go beyond next year,” Hoi said.

According to the General Secretary, political difficulties have already been resolved and under the situation of trade tension among economic giants, there is urgency for all ASEAN members to push the agreement to its conclusion.

We know that challenges are still there, and we will intensify negotiations among the trade negotiators as well as at the ministerial level,” he said, affirming “the climate seems to be quite positive.”

Economic ministers are scheduled to meet in Thailand in September and “this will be a venue for the ministers to sit down and try to push [the negotiations] ahead.”

When asked about the most challenging problems that still exist, Hoi said: “Sixteen countries with different levels of economic development and different levels in trust. So it is not easy to put into one package. We need to balance the interests of each country, which is the role of ASEAN.”

We have concluded certain chapters in telecoms, the movement in IP, the movement in financial services. But market access negotiations are still going and they will not end until we are all satisfied.”

Some countries are concerned that they would be exposed to many other imports, he said, adding that “They have to be careful and mindful with the domestic pressure.”

However, “they have taken a practical approach toward RCEP. Hopefully they will lead the way to good outcomes in the months ahead,” Hoi said.

There is also a problem with non-ASEAN members because they don’t have free trade agreements (FTAs) among themselves so they need to intensify their negotiations in market access, he added.

Dr Suthad Setboonsarng, Board Member of the Bank of Thailand and former first Thai Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN (right), receives a gift from ASEAN Secretariat. image: http://image.vietnamnews.vn/uploadvnnews/Article/2019/8/1/28934_DrSuthad.jpg

Speaking with Việt Nam News on the sidelines of the 3rd ASEAN Media Forum early this week, Dr Suthad Setboonsarng, Board Member of the Bank of Thailand, said that RCEP is a conglomeration of five FTAs. The first one is the ASEAN-China FTA which was signed in 2003 and the toughest FTA is the one with India.

In RCEP negotiations, one of the rules is we have to give everybody else what we give to one country,” like the Most Favoured Nations mechanism.

What we have to give to China, we must give to India and to Japan. In 2003’s agreement, China liberalises the agriculture sector for ASEAN countries. But now for China to liberalise the agriculture sector for Japan, India and Korea, it is much more difficult,” Setboonsarng said.

However, the former first Thai Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN was also optimistic of the future of RCEP as he saw a new mechanism being implemented in negotiating the trade deal.

In the past, there were trade negotiation working groups but heads of the groups couldnot make any immediate decision at the meeting, he said.

The only way to get RCEP is to come out for outside talks not on the table because going to the table is very difficult.”

Currently, a small group of three countries including Thailand (current ASEAN Chair), Singapore (last year’s ASEAN Chair) and Việt Nam (next year’s ASEAN Chair) are going around other countries and try to talk and see what is the problem that each country has, he said, adding that it will help facilitate the process.

I think it has been used in political arena much more than in economic negotiations. But I saw this one, which is very important for the success of RCEP.”

Dr Hoe Ee Khor, Chief Economist of ASEAN+3 Macro Economic Research Office, said if ASEAN countries and dialogue partners can finalise the RCEP, it will be a very strong signal of commitment to rules-based multilateral trade amidst the rising trend of protectionism and nationalism.

Initiated in 2012, RCEP involves 10 ASEAN member countries, namely Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Việt Nam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei; and six dialogue partners including China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Korea. — VNS

Source: Viet Nam News “RCEP expected to be finalised by year-end: ASEAN General Secretary”

Note: This is Viet Nam News’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Australian Reporter’s Gang-of-Four Skill in Making up Fake News


Australian ASPI’s report “What satellite imagery reveals about Xinjiang’s ‘re-education’ camps and coerced labour” reminds me of the fake news by Gang-of-Four reporters during China’s Cultural Revolution. The report shows the extraordinary skill of making fake news that I thought only the Gang of Four was so impudent to make.

The title of the report makes readers believe that the satellite photos show that there are “re-education camp” that coerces people to work for a factory.

In fact the photos only show some buildings that emerged along with those of the factories and some buses that may be used to send people from the buildings to the factory.

So What? It is common for a factory to build dormitories nearby for its workers and have buses to send them to and from the factory. Can some buildings near a factory prove those buildings are used to detain people. The buildings in the photos look utterly unlike a detention center.

There are no people in any of the photos to prove people are held there in custody or sent to the factory for coerced labor.

As the photos do not reveal anything claimed in the report, the writer of the report knowingly uses the term of “potentially” in conclusion. For Gang-of-Four writers, everything they wrote could “potentially” be true so that innocent Chinese President Liu Shaoqi could be accused as a traitor and persecuted to death for that.

By the way, have any Gang-of-Four writers immigrated to Australia?

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on ASPI’s report, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/what-satellite-imagery-reveals-about-xinjiangs-re-education-camps-and-coerced-labour/.


No Quad to Contain China


US President Trump has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that aims to contain China economically. Instead, he is enthusiastic in establishing satisfactory personal ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping in order that his country may better access to China’s huge market. As a result, there has been no military pivot to Asia to contain China either since Trump came to office.

In order to keep on containing China so as to please the large number of US elite hostile to the rise of China, Trump’s previous secretary of state Rex Tillerson wanted to replace Obama’s pivot to Asia with the Quad of the US, Australia, India and Japan to contain China.

However, according to Asia Times’ article “The Quad’ is fading into obscurity”, Australia does not want to hurt its trade relations with China while India has persisted in its non-alliance doctrine, only the US and Japan remain in the Quad to counter China now.

In fact Japan has been seeking improvement of ties with China as shown in its enthusiasm in Abe’s visit to Beijing and Xi’s visit to Tokyo soon. There is no Quad to contain China at all now.

The writer of the article worries what will be done if China takes Taiwan by force for reunification of China.

Will the US fight for Taiwan alone without the assistance from its Quad allies?

In a war between China and the US, China will surely has Russia’s support but who will support the US? The US will be really isolated in the war but no one is to blame. The US pursues isolationism and gets isolation.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Asia Times article, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/03/article/the-quad-is-fading-into-obscurity/.


Making waves in West, China luring Pacific islands with Belt and Road


Charlotte Greenfield, Colin Packham November 14, 2018

WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping will showcase China’s Belt and Road initiative to Pacific leaders at a regional summit on Friday, diplomats say, with Western countries watching warily for signs of Beijing’s growing clout.

The competition for influence between China and Western allies Australia, New Zealand and the United States, is likely to provide a strong undercurrent at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

“China is showing a desire for a bigger role in the region, and that is out in the open like it has never been before,” said a senior British diplomat who declined to be named as she is not authorized to talk to the media.

China has said it will announce “important measures for further cooperation” at the summit. Western diplomats believe that probably means formally extending its Belt and Road plans into the Pacific.

First proposed by Xi in 2013, the initiative promotes expanding land and sea links between Asia, Africa and Europe, with billions of dollars pledged for infrastructure development.

Western governments harbor suspicions that Beijing’s professed desire to spread prosperity masks an underlying intention to become a more dominant power.

Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva is one of several island nation leaders who will meet collectively with Xi, having already been asked by Beijing to sign up to the Belt and Road.

“We’re discussing that right now”,” Lopeti Senituli, a political advisor to the Tongan premier, told Reuters.

For Pacific nations, China may offer support for much needed infrastructure and development. Xi’s vision to provide links to a bigger marketplace could also prove hard to resist for leaders of the remote, fledgling economies.

WHOSE PATCH?

For China, extending its influence into the Pacific would lessen the sense of maritime containment, and also potentially secure support from grateful, indebted governments at international forums, where numbers can count.

Three sources familiar with the matter, including the British official, said that Western nations had been informed that Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and Niue have agreed sign onto Belt and Road.

Niue and the Cook Islands did not respond to an emailed request for comment, but the Cook Islands’ Finance Minister Mark Brown told Radio New Zealand last week that his government would be signing.

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said in a message on Twitter that he “did not believe” Vanuatu had committed to Belt and Road but he would check.

China’s official Belt and Road website reported that Fiji had made a commitment on Monday, joining the likes of Samoa and Papua New Guinea.

China’s footprint in the region has been growing in the past decade. Pacific governments now owe about $1.3 billion in concessional debt to China, raising fears in the West, that the region was becoming more susceptible to Beijing’s diplomatic pressure.

A senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday no country can block Beijing’s cooperation with Pacific Island nations.

Xi’s meeting with the island nation leaders, which a U.S. diplomatic source said will be held without observers from the West, comes after a series of Western initiatives to shore up ties in the Pacific.

Australia last week declared the Pacific “our patch” as it offered A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in cheap infrastructure loans and grants.

Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Source: Reuters “Making waves in West, China luring Pacific islands with Belt and Road”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


China says nobody can stand in its way in Pacific island cooperation


Ben Blanchard November 13, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – No country can block China’s cooperation with island nations in the Pacific and the area is no country’s sphere of influence, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of a summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific island leaders.

Australia, in particular, has been vying for influence with China in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.

Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week.

Xi is due to meet leaders from eight Pacific nations it has diplomatic ties with at the end of the week in Papua New Guinea, where he will offer “important measures” for more cooperation, Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang told a news briefing.

“Other countries should not obstruct China’s friendly cooperation and exchanges with the island nations. Of course, they have no way to obstruct this cooperation and these exchanges,” Zheng said, without specifying any country.

Meeting in Beijing last week, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told his Australian counterpart that Beijing and Canberra should be cooperating in the South Pacific and not be cast as strategic rivals.

Zheng said China was willing to cooperate with other countries in the Pacific, and that everyone should “positively respond to the special difficulties island nations face and urgent needs” and help them to achieve sustainable development.

“The island country region is not any country’s sphere of influence. Everyone should jointly help the island nations,” he said.

“We hope that relevant parties can objectively and positively view China’s relations with Pacific Island nations, and earnestly abandon outdated concepts of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games, and do more to benefit the island nations’ development and improvement of livelihoods and regional peace and stability.”

China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

Xi will be meeting the leaders of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Micronesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue.

Zheng did not give a date for the summit, only saying meetings would be happening in Port Moresby on Thursday and Friday, ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea on the weekend.

Six other Pacific island nations have diplomatic relations with Taiwan though, which Beijing regards as a wayward Chinese province with no right to formal foreign ties. Their leaders will not be attending the meeting with Xi.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

Source: Reuters “China says nobody can stand in its way in Pacific island cooperation”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


India and China Have Eased Border Tension


Friendly meeting between Indian and Chinese border troops
Times of India’s photo

China and the US both have tried hard to win India to its side.

The US has been exploiting India’s border disputes with China to draw India into its quad to confront China. It promised to provide India with high weapon technology to attract India to participate in its quad, especially to play a major role in containing China.

Indian Prime Minister is very shrewd. He certainly wants to get US weapon technology, but refuses to be in the forefront of quad to confront China; therefore he refused Australia’s requests to join India’s naval drill with the US and Japan.

Sorry there can be no quad to contain China as a part of it Australia is missing. The US is now playing quad as sadly as playing bridge with only three people! Moreover, the other two Japan and India wanted quad to prevent the threat of a rising China while anxious to benefit economically from China’s rise. It seems that only the US sincerely wants the quad.

China has been trying hard to solve its border disputes with India and win over India to participate in its Belt and Road initiative.

Now, according to Times of India report “India, China hold border personnel meet at Chusul in Ladakh”, Chinese and Indian troops have been making efforts to ease border tension since the recent informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which the two leaders agree to ease border tension.

The report says, “Armies of India and China on Tuesday held a Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) during which both sides resolved to maintain peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control, besides agreeing to work on additional confidence building measures.”

The BPM was held at Wacha border post in Kibithu, Arunachal Pradesh on Labor Day where the two sides celebrated the festival and exchanged gifts.

The report says, “The two sides hold BPM at five points — Daulat Beg Oldie in northern Ladakh, Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh, Chusul in Ladakh, Bum-La near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and Nathu-La in Sikkim.

In fact, the border disputes are easy to resolve as the disputed area are poor barren areas with few natural resources. Sandwiched between China and its iron brother Pakistan, India will find itself lucky if the two iron brothers earnestly want peace with it. In fact, India is very clear that the other three of the quad will not join India in resisting the two iron brothers if they attack it.

Xi and Modi are successful in their efforts to ease border tension.

On the other hand, China’s Belt and Road initiative is very attractive. Can India keep on opposing it when the initiative has brought prosperity to its neighbors Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives?

The US wants to make others believe that China’s Belt and Road is predatory to make its neighbors heavily in debts in order to control them. What will China benefit from such an outcome? It will suffer huge financial losses but get nothing but the troubles to deal with the political instability caused by their insolvency. Only the US wants such control but has ended up in financial difficulties in both itself and the countries under its control.

China wants the countries that have joined its Belt and Road to prosper so that they will provide huge markets for Chinese goods. Moreover, Chinese investments there will bring China windfall returns if they become prosperous.

India will finally join the Belt and Road when it sees with envy the prosperity brought to its neighbors by China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Times of India’s report, full text of which can be viewed at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-china-hold-border-personnel-meet-at-chusul-in-ladakh/articleshow/63990171.cms.