China has applied to join a major Asia-Pacific trade partnership that the United States ditched several years ago, as the world's second largest economy tries to bolster its relationships in the region.

Why would China join the Asia-Pacific trade partnership if it would undermine China's control over its industries and prevent China from engaging in illegal government subsidies, force China to implement tougher measures against intellectual property theft, and would make China vulnerable to legal actions taken by foreign companies?


The original TPP was thought by some to likely bring China's neighbours closer to the United States and reduce their dependence on Chinese trade.[168][169][23][24][25][187][188][26][189][190] If ratified, the TPP would have strengthened American influence on future rules for the global economy. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter claimed the passage of the TPP to be as valuable to the United States as the creation of another aircraft carrier.[23] President Obama has argued "if we don't pass this agreement—if America doesn't write those rules—then countries like China will".[191] According to the Congressional Research Service, "many Asian policymakers—correctly or not—could interpret a failure of TPP in the United States as a symbol of declining U.S. interest in the region and inability to assert leadership... failure to conclude TPP could, in effect, allow China to shape regional rules of commerce and diplomacy through its own trade and investment initiatives, potentially creating regional rules and norms less beneficial for U.S. interests."

The TPP seems to have been created to undermine China, so I am actually wondering why China would join the TPP instead of creating an alternate organization where China would have a lot more say and the rules wouldn't be as stringent against China and would be much more in line with China's current practices.

  • 1
    Perhaps the Chinese has listened to economists & historians who tell them that while subsidies & protectionism may be useful in the short run, they are detrimental in the long run.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 17:26
  • 2
    "prevent China from engaging in illegal government subsidies" Illegal according to what laws? Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 18:11

2 Answers 2


The group wasn't created to undermine China, more to allow smaller countries to group together for their mutual benefit.

For China, it's a case of Better in than Out.

As a member, China would be able to influence the group and its future policies, in particular it would be able to shape the groups stance with regard to the USA. It would also be able to undermine attempts to use the group against it.

While some membership clauses appear to put China at a disadvantage, they are also useful to China. For example, it could be used to force other members to reduce import duties against Chinese goods, or to open up their economy to investment from China.


I don't fully agree with the premise of @Aaargh Zombies answer.

TPP (and then CPTPP) was created to counterweight Chinese influence in the region, especially following the feuds in the South China Sea.

It is true that China has been using the method of influencing international organizations from the inside (just look at the amount of organisations head are from China at the UN, or its influence in other bodies such as WHO), but the CPTPP requirement for joining of all members' approval made it very clear they had no chance.

The key question is whether you believe the Chinese side that they are unrelated event. I doubt that they could have spin up that kind of "official application process" in a day, although I am no Trade agreement expert.

My guess that it was already started and they decided to fast track the release of the application, as a reminder that they are paying attention, and are aware that the way forward for them is something described by Aaargh Zombies' paragraph 3 and 4, as well as a race to get in before the US and "gut it from the inside"

Also funny developement: Taiwan sent their application the day after (which could mean the application process doesnt require that much work)

  • I think that the essential flaw in a lot of the arguments that are being given is that organizations or treaties of this type are being seen through a lens of them primarily NATO type organizations formed to counter an external threat, rather than European Union type organizations being formed for mutual benefit of their members. If we look at the TPP as an inclusionary trade group rather than a private members club, it makes a lot of sense that China would want to join. Doing so would make exporting easier, and would give it greater influence over the direction o f the group in the future.
    – user38958
    Commented Oct 2, 2021 at 6:46
  • Hey look I absolutely agree that the framing of this by the West, but really more specifically the US (who then pushes its narrative) is extremely bad for pretty much everyone on earth. I'm just saying that initially, the fact is the US created TPP (not CPTPP) with the objective to "counter " chinese pushing around of other nations, especially on the trade side.
    – J.C
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 19:38
  • As for the answer to the question, I don't think anyone here could confidently dismiss the possibility they did that right after AUKUS to have a stab at the US. Not certain but not unlikely
    – J.C
    Commented Oct 3, 2021 at 19:39

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