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US should consider supporting Beijing-backed Asia-Pacific trade pact, says Chinese state-run paper

US president-elect Donald Trump’s administration should consider supporting a Beijing-backed free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific, state media said on Tuesday, adding that China would be relieved to see a rival American-led trade deal wither under Trump.

During his election campaign, Trump took a protectionist stance on trade issues and labelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) championed by President Barack Obama a “disaster”. There is now little chance of it coming up for vote in Washington before his inauguration in January.

Obama had framed the trade pact, which excludes China, as part of his “pivot to Asia” and as an effort to write Asia’s trade rules before Beijing could.

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China had feared the United States would use the pact to either force it to open markets by signing up or else to isolate it from other regional economies.

“Of course, Beijing is understandably relieved that the exclusive, economically inefficient, politically antagonising TPP is looking ever less likely to materialise by the day,” the official English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade talks, which are supported by Beijing but to which the United States is not party, are viewed by some observers as a competitor to US economic leadership in the region.

“The incoming administration should realise that the more open, inclusive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will turn out to be a far more efficient vehicle for advancing US interests,” the China Daily said.

“Washington may want to take advantage of the nascent, evolving platform and become involved from the rule-making stage. US influence in the Asia-Pacific will not abate if the Trump administration chooses to engage with the region constructively,” the paper said.

Such editorials in state-run media do not represent Chinese government policy, but are indicative of official thinking.

RCEP groups the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, but currently does not offer the same high level of free trade openings as the TPP.

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China has said it will seek support for another nascent Beijing-led trade framework, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific at a regional summit this month.

Peru, which will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting and is party to the TPP, has said that Pacific-rim countries can forge a new trade deal to replace it which includes China and Russia but not the United States.