Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has addressed a trade forum organized by a Chinese propaganda agency and state-run media, which aims to encourage “regional exchange and co-operation” around the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
The appearance comes despite the current Australian ministers who have been frozen from diplomatic contact with their Chinese counterparts since 2020 amid an ongoing economic coercion campaign that Beijing is waging against Australia.
Rudd delivered his message via video according to free trade plays an important role in China’s economic development, but he noted that ‘protectionism’ has become more prominent due to political factors, according to the state-run media Daily China.
“It is hoped that China will continue to trade in free trade, reform and openness and multilateralism, which will benefit the development of China, the region and the world,” he said.
The RCEP Media and Thinking Forum was attended by 300 individuals, including members of the press, think tanks, embassy officials and business representatives from the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The conference was also dedicated to encouraging free trade around China’s southernmost province of Hainan. It was organized by the China Daily newspaper, the publicity department of the Hainan Provincial Party Committee and the China (Hainan) Institute for Reform and Development.
The heavyweight of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Jiang Jianguo, the deputy director of the publicity department – formerly known as the propaganda department – addressed the meeting and called for deeper cooperation between regional neighbors.
The RCEP was struck in November last year and is the largest trade agreement in the world covering 15 countries, and 30 percent of the world population and gross domestic product. Australia has joined RCEP with a view to further opening up the Southeast Asian market.
RCEP does not open up completely free trade throughout the region, but sets out a baseline of customs control and access rules and access to certain markets.
Furthermore, the agreement provides countries that have dispute resolution mechanisms against other countries, a service that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has not been able to provide since 2019.
The WTO’s dispute resolution mechanism – the appeals body – could not settle disputes as the former US government refused to appoint new members to the body due to issues such as direct handover, slow decision – making and consistent rulings against US tariffs aimed at US to protect businesses. The European Union has only recently recognize also these issues.
Rudd’s appearance comes despite the fact that Australian Trade Minister is unable to establish contact or meet with their Chinese counterparts.
Over the past year, Beijing has launched a year-long economic coercion campaign against Australia targeting various exports to China, including coal, cattle, wine, barley, lobster, wood, lamb and cotton industries. The actions came in response to a call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Australia has launched an action at the WTO to remove around 80 per cent tariffs on barley exports following allegations of dumping against Australian companies.
Beijing, meanwhile, has reluctantly joined the RCEP, citing fears of growing international isolation, according to Yang Wei, an Epoch Times China commentator. He noted that RCEP is unlikely to offer any new opportunities for China.
‘The political situation in the South China Sea and the East China Sea is tense. The signing of the RCEP may be a temporary leave for the senior leaders of the CCP, but it may not solve the problems of the regime at home and abroad, ‘he wrote in a headline.