BEIJING: Asia-Pacific leaders on late Tuesday backed China’s roadmap for a vast new free trade area rivalling US plans for the region at a summit in Beijing where Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a tense showdown with Barack Obama.
Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed endorsement of the plan as a “historic” step towards realizing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
He said it reflected the “confidence and commitment of APEC members to promote the integration of the regional economy.”
The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum accounts for more than 50 percent of global gross domestic product and nearly half of world trade.
Beijing has embraced the broader FTAAP which is seen as a rival to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership pushed by Washington as part of its much-vaunted “pivot” to Asia but which notably excludes China.
The FTAAP is a longer-term concept for the entire region that would build on the TPP and other free-trade initiatives.
The US president has insisted he wants China “to do well” despite simmering tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
“The United States welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China,” Obama said in a speech on Monday at the APEC summit.
China and the United States have jousted over differing visions of Asia-Pacific trade integration while Beijing’s increasing economic and military prominence has also lead to tensions.
But at the meeting Obama himself praised China for focusing attention on APEC’s role in eventually achieving the FTAAP, first proposed in 2006, but also reiterated the US priority was the smaller TPP.
“The many regional initiatives will contribute to the eventual realization,” he said. “We see our engagement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a contribution towards that effort,” he added.
Xi hosted Obama for a private dinner on Tuesday and they were to meet again on Wednesday.
Both sides say they want to manage their relationship to avoid clashes in the past that have occurred between rising and established powers.
In a sign that they can work together, the White House announced on Tuesday that they had “reached an understanding” on an agreement to reduce tariffs on information technology trade.
Obama also announced in Beijing the two governments had reached a reciprocal agreement to extend visa validity periods to as long as a decade.
China has been keen to underscore its rising trade and diplomatic clout during the summit which takes place against a backdrop of growing big-power rivalries.