China is dedicated to the economic integration of the Asia-Pacific, and in what appears to be progress toward this integration, various new regional free trade agreements (FTAs) keep cropping up.
While these individual agreements might appear to be steps in the right direction, worries are on the rise that rival pacts will lead to fragmentation and hurt cooperation. There is a growing sense of urgency for a high-level FTA that accommodates different interests.
The Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) could ward off the "spaghetti bowl" phenomenon -- too many competing FTAs with entangled rules.
"We need to accelerate the realization of FTAAP and take regional economic integration forward," President Xi Jinping said while addressing an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO summit in Manila on Wednesday.[Special coverage]
It has been a year since APEC leaders endorsed the Beijing roadmap for APEC's contribution to the FTAAP. A two-year study on the FTAAP started last year, spearheaded by China and the United States, and with the participation of the 21 APEC members. The study will assess the pluses and minuses of the FTAAP and analyses how it could be realized. A report on the study is due next January for review by APEC leaders next year.
Also last year China proposed an APEC connectivity blueprint for 2015-2025, essentially a plan to make the region more integrated through enhanced infrastructure and people-to-people connections.
Another proposal China made is the Belt and Road initiative which has the support of more than 60 countries and international organizations.
So far this year, China has made direct investment in 48 Belt and Road countries of 10.7 billion U.S. dollars, and established a 400-billion U.S. dollar Silk Road Fund. More than 50 countries are now involved with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
An open and inclusive FTAAP match perfectly with China's transformation from labor-intensive, credit-driven growth to sustainability and efficiency. Innovation, coordination, care for the environment, openness and sharing are to be written into the country's next Five-Year Plan.
One estimate is that an APEC-wide FTAAP by 2025 would mean a contribution of 2.4 trillion U.S. dollars for the world, eclipsing a contribution of 223 billion U.S. dollars expected to be made by the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Economic recovery in different countries is out of sync, prompting them to make different choices for the sake of development. Issues such as natural disasters, cyber crime and food security all risk derailing economic integration.
However, as integration is the only way to tackle the complex, multitudinous problems of common prosperity, China will spare no effort to see it through.