China’s willingness to consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is perhaps an admission that emphasising free trade but ignoring fair trade is no longer sustainable. Even sacred cows such as its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and insistence on the WTO platform for multilateral trade negotiations may be up for discussion. On a practical level, the CPTPP may just be the external push it needs to force its SOEs to reform.
Even if it might be a unilateral move, China should embark on its third phase of opening up, says Zheng Yongnian. The first phase of China’s opening up took place after the Opium War while the second was led by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Now, in the face of unprecedented challenges of the new century, China must undertake a higher-order opening up, and work towards setting global standards and formulating rules at the international level. These endeavours begin at home, with the domestic standardisation of rules in different regions and localities.
Talks on the China-EU investment deal were concluded on 30 December 2020, lending fresh impetus to China’s further opening up to the world. However, the response so far, both externally and internally, seems to be lukewarm to the idea of what some call China’s third opening up. Zaobao associate editor Han Yong Hong ponders why this is so and analyses where China is likely to go from here.
Cai Daolu of the NUS Business School says that the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) between China and the EU can help to reduce uncertainty and facilitate the flow of investment, technology and know-how across borders. In fluid times, good old-fashioned economic integration and openness to foreign direct investment are just the booster shot that the world economy needs.
China will continue to flex its e-commerce muscles in 2021, predicts Associate Professor Chu Junhong from the NUS Business School. Expect a strong dose of cross-border e-commerce, live-streaming e-commerce, and more eye-catching short videos that promise great returns on “retailtainment”.
Values underpin multilateral cooperation, asserts economics professor Zhu Ying. The Chinese case is no exception. Their international engagement has been driven by values, whether in the early period of “leaning to one side” and becoming an ally of the Soviet Union, or the present “multilateralism with Chinese characteristics” held up by mechanisms such as the BRI. Question is, what incentive does the international community have to meet them halfway?
Zheng Weibin asserts that the US will soon be stepping back into an international arena that is much changed. The US cannot hope to regain a unipolar dominance, if it arguably ever had it. Rather, a multipolarity ruled by regional pockets of issues-based interests is taking shape, starting in Asia.
EAI academic Yu Hong notes that the RCEP will bring greater regional economic integration by increasing trade in Asia-Pacific and generating new business opportunities for companies in the 15 member countries of ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia. China and ASEAN in particular, are well-placed to reap many of the benefits.
Academics Pei Sai Fan, David Lee and Yan Li say that an understanding of other countries’ technological culture and policies is crucial in advancing digital economic cooperation. For instance, in the main, Singapore and China are able to mutually respect the differences in their blockchain and token policies, and focus on the complementarity of their approaches. Together, they can deepen their collaboration on central bank digital currencies and other projects, and lead the way regionally and globally in building digital economies of the future.