Chinese President Xi Jinping has pushed Beijing’s free trade plansat a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, stepping up to fill the void left by US President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionism. Trump’s victory is making it a rocky ride into the sunset for Barack Obama, whose last foreign visit as US president — to an annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group in Lima, Peru — has been full of awkward questions from fellow leaders.
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Trump’s attacks on free trade deals and vows to cut back the US role as “policeman of the world” are causing jitters in the Pacific Rim, where the United States and China battle for influence. Obama met on Friday with leaders of the 12 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a vast US-led trade accord that Trump opposes and which now faces an uncertain future.
The billionaire mogul campaigned against the proposal as a “terrible deal” that would “rape” the United States by sending American jobs to countries with cheaper labor. In a Pacific region hungry for trade, that has left even longtime US allies looking to China — which was notably excluded from the TPP — to fill the void.
Beijing is pushing two alternatives: the 21-member Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and a 16-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which notably includes India but not the United States. Xi on Friday urged regional leaders to advance both deals at the summit.
“We should firmly pursue FTAAP,” he said in a keynote address. “Openness is vital for the prosperity of the Asia-Pacific.” In the face of Trump’s protectionist rhetoric, he vowed China “will not shut its door to the outside world, but open it even wider.”
“We will fully involve ourselves in economic globalization by supporting the multilateral trading regime, advancing the FTAAP and working for the early conclusion of the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” he said.
From Obama down, US officials have stressed that the election has not changed the country’s economic and strategic interests, and that Trump may yet recalibrate his views.
“How you campaign isn’t always the same as how you govern,” Obama told a town hall meeting of young Latin Americans in Lima. Many leaders seem to be hoping as much within APEC — a 21-member free trade club that accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s population and nearly 60 per cent of the global economy.
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