Applying for membership in the DEPA… U.S.-China Conflict Spreads Through ‘Digital’

Comprehensive agreement on new technologies such as data transfer… Korea is also in the process of negotiating
Biden government’s move to preemptively reach agreements with Asia-Pacific countries
Chinese experts “Means against crackdowns such as TikTok”… Joining CPTTP also helps

China has applied for membership in the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA), expanding its digital order. It seems that the US is taking a preemptive response when it is known that the US is planning to encircle China by signing digital trade agreements with Asia-Pacific countries. The competition between the US and China to lead international digital standards is expected to intensify.

China’s Ministry of Commerce announced on the 2nd that it had formally applied for membership in New Zealand, a depositary state of the DEPA on the 1st.

DEPA is a digital trade agreement signed in June last year by Singapore, New Zealand, and Chile to establish digital trade norms and strengthen cooperation.

The agreement comprehensively stipulates digital norms for smooth e-commerce, liberalization of data transfer, and protection of personal information, as well as cooperation in new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and fintech.

Korea also applied for DEPA membership in September and is currently in the process of negotiating with member countries.

China’s application to join the DEPA seems to reflect its will to lead international norms in related fields based on the growth of the digital economy such as e-commerce. The Ministry of Commerce said, “The application to join the DEPA is in line with the direction of deepening domestic reform and expanding a high level of openness to the outside world. It will help,” he said. Earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) announced his intention to join the DEPA in a video address at the G20 summit held in Rome, Italy on the 30th (local time), and said, “China attaches great importance to international cooperation in the digital economy.”

China has formed an independent digital order centered on control and management to the extent that it is called ‘Galapagos’ while keeping a distance from the global internet order. This is why the Chinese Internet operates within a powerful government-controlled system called the Great Firewall. Free access to YouTube and Facebook right now is not guaranteed.

This move is largely conscious of the United States. The Joe Biden administration is said to be considering signing a digital trade agreement with countries other than China in the Asia-Pacific region to contain China’s influence.

There is also a prospect that the US can also use DEPA as a starting point.

China’s application to join the DEPA can be seen as a step ahead of the United States to strengthen openness and cooperation in the digital economy field and to actively participate in discussions on international trade norms. Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported that in relation to China’s application to join the DEPA, “the outside world is paying attention to the possibility that the digital economy field will become a field of competition between the US and China.”

Chinese experts see DEPA accession as a means of countering US crackdowns on Chinese tech companies. Zhang (張毅), CEO of iMedia Research, said, “China’s digital development has led the world in recent years, but there is no internationally recognized legal framework for digital trade. There are frictions in related businesses, such as,” he told The Global Times.

Some view it as an intention to facilitate accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP). China applied for CPTTP membership in September, but many analyzes say that it is difficult to guarantee membership due to high barriers to entry. The three DEPA member countries are CPTTP member countries, and it is known that the DEPA regulations apply the CPTTP regulations mutatis mutandis.

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