China weaves its web of trade across the world

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing during a video conference with European leaders on December 30, 2020.

Negotiate with China, or not? The question has tormented many chancelleries since Beijing, in the midst of a trade and technological war with Washington, multiplies all-out opening gestures around the world in order to find less hostile growth relays. After signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with fourteen countries in Asia and the Pacific, the largest free trade agreement in the world, in November 2020, China was quick to welcome “The victory of multilateralism and free trade”, as if to better underline the isolation of the United States.

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A few weeks later, it accelerated negotiations with the European Union (EU), to conclude, at the end of December, an agreement on investments under discussion since 2013. “China’s determination to promote high-level openness is unwavering and its door will always open wider,” Beijing immediately welcomed, through its embassy in Paris. It is also for her a diplomatic victory: she manages to decouple her relationship with the United States from that with the Old Continent, thus avoiding a common front between the two Western powers.

A few days later, the 1is January, the free trade agreement between Mauritius and China came into effect. An agreement that “Strengthens [leurs] economic relations with Africa ”, said Wu Peng, director of the Africa department at the Chinese foreign ministry, who has also promised more on the continent. And it’s not over.

Retaliatory measures

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency on Jan. 8, China’s new trade minister Wang Wentao said he wanted to speed up negotiations with Japan and South Korea, and hold talks with Israel, the Council of cooperation of the Gulf and Norway. “We have more and more business partners”, assured the minister.

Beijing now has nineteen free trade agreements, signed with twenty-six countries, which cover 35% of its foreign trade.

“China wants to increase partnerships before the installation of the new American administration, scheduled for January 20,” observes Alice Ekman, analyst responsible for Asia at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (IESUE). More and more Chinese companies are having to leave Wall Street listing because they have been blacklisted by the US Department of Defense.

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