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March 30, 2017

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Now that the US is out, Beijing authorities may be interested in attending TPP talks

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- China is mulling participation in upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks to be held in Chile in the wake of the U.S.' withdrawal from the agreement, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson has said.

The spokesperson was responding a Reuters report that cited a Chilean official as saying that representatives from 12 countries that formed the TPP, plus China and South Korea, would meet March 14 and 15 for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the group, effectively killing it in its current form.

"The Chinese side supports economic integration in the Asia-Pacific, and stands ready to enhance communication and coordination with Chile and other relevant countries to build FTAAP (Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific), create an open Asia-Pacific economy and inject new impetus to economic growth in the region and beyond," the spokesperson, Geng Shuang, said at a regular press conference Friday.

"We hope that the meeting will help realize the goals. To my knowledge, the Chinese side is actively considering attendance at the meeting," he disclosed. Geng's remarks were disclosed on the Chinese foreign ministry's website.

Geng did not elaborate, but his remarks were consistent with ones made by another foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chun-ying, shortly after Trump's TPP withdrawal announcement in January.

Asked at the time whether China would seek to join TPP, Hua said the Asia-Pacific should continue to serve as an engine for global growth, and build an open economy.

The APEC leaders have put forth the vision and plan for the FTAAP, which needs to be realized through vigorous efforts, she said.

Negotiations on the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) had made important headway and should be concluded soon, adding new momentum to economic growth in the Asia-Pacific and the world at large, she added.

Taiwan had been looking to join TPP before Trump pulled the United States out of the partnership.

Observers said Taiwan would find it even harder to join TPP or other post-TPP partnerships in the area if China became a leading member.

The Reuters report said China was now likely to lead the TPP talks to find an alternative trade pact after the United States dropped out.

China has accomplished its first goal of getting everyone together and will now seek commitments for further meetings to evaluate alternatives, Paulina Nazal, head of Chile's international trade, was cited by Reuters as saying Wednesday.

Likely alternatives could be to build on the base of preexisting agreements, such as Latin America's four-country Pacific Alliance, or the proposed Southeast Asia-backed RCEP, she was quoted as saying.

China, which is part of RCEP talks, has argued the TPP was too complex and political.

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