Japan is not considering signing a Chinese-backed regional trade pact without India, the top Japanese negotiator has said Friday, ahead of a series of diplomatic exchanges in the coming weeks that include a visit to Delhi by the Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Shinzo Abe.
India announced this month it was withdrawing from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), citing the deal’s potential impact on the livelihoods of its most vulnerable citizens. China said that the 15 remaining countries decided to move forward first and India was welcome to join RCEP whenever it is ready.
'We aren’t thinking about that at all yet,' the Japanese Deputy Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, Mr. Hideki Makihara, said. 'All we are thinking of is negotiations including India.' Mr. Abe has sought to beef up ties with India across a range of fields to balance China’s regional dominance.
Japanese and Indian foreign and defense ministers hold their first joint meeting in a so-called ‘two plus two’ format this weekend. Both are also part of four-way security talks with Australia and the U.S. called the Quad, a move that Beijing has complained could stoke a new Cold War.
'It is meaningful from the economic, political and potentially the national security point of view,' Mr. Makihara said of the inclusion of the world’s largest democracy in the pact. "Japan will continue to try to persuade India to join.'
The Trade Minister, Mr. Hiroshi Kajiyama, will accompany Mr. Abe on his trip to India, Mr.Makihara said. The other countries taking part in the RCEP talks are Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
China has sought to accelerate the RCEP deal as it faces slowing growth from a trade war with the U.S. An agreement would further integrate Asia’s economies with China just as the US President, Mr. Donald Trump’s administration urges nations in the region to shun Chinese infrastructure loans and 5G telecommunications technology.