By Lu Jianren
China should work out a long-term regional economic co-operation strategy and layout to further boost economic development.
Since the adoption of the reform and opening-up formula in 1978, the country has witnessed economic marvels.
The experience of the past two decades demonstrates that active involvement in economic globalization and regional integration is an important factor behind and a guarantee of the country's sustained and fast-paced economic development.
China started the process of integrating itself into economic globalization and regionalization from the time it launched a bid to re-enter the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986.
The marathon negotiations before the country's re-entry into the global multilateral economic mechanism and later its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO), gave China a useful lesson in economic globalization.
At the same time, during the 15-year entry talks process, the country paid no less attention to emerging economic regionalization.
In 1991, China's entry into the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) organization, the first regional group the country joined, signalled its first step towards integrating itself into economic regionalization.
Similarly, it was before accession to the WTO that China learned a lot about trade liberalization rules and gained experience.
Since joining the WTO, China has actively participated in and pushed forward not only the global multilateral trading system, but also regional economic co-operation.
In recent years in particular, China has become more active in integrating itself into regional co-operation.
It is a prevailing tendency that most countries in the world are rushing to sign bilateral or multilateral free trade agreements to forge one or more regional economic co-operative organizations.
Facts prove that if a developing nation adopts an active approach to regional co-operation, it enjoys tangible economic success.
Regional co-operation is often conducted among geographically adjacent countries. Thus, participating in this kind of economic co-operation is undoubtedly equivalent to creating a stable surrounding market for the economy of participants.
As stable trading partners enjoying preferential trade conditions, members of a regional economic bloc usually gain more from inter-regional economic dealings than from the world market.
So far, China has already forged an outstretched web of economic and trading links with neighboring nations. On the basis of this, setting up a regional economic co-operative community will be extremely favorable to the country's trade with and investment in foreign countries in the future.
Participation in either the global multilateral trading frameworks or regional trading agreements both embodies a country's willingness to open its economy to the outside world and spurs the reform of its economic establishments.
A country's participation in regional trading arrangements sends an unequivocal signal to the outside that the country will have a long-term and institutionalized trade and investment liberalization policy, which is very important to foreign investors.
Regional co-operation is not currently purely confined to trade. It also involves investment and technology co-operation.
China's involvement in this economic trend will bring capital, advanced technology and fresh management ideas to its enterprises from co-operative partners.
More importantly, participation in regional economic co-operation will increase the number of interests common to China and its neighbors in terms of politics, diplomacy and security. This will help set up stable political surroundings and a favorable security environment.
China has fully acknowledged the role regional economic co-operation has played and thus has maintained a very active stance with regard to this kind of co-operation in the Asia-Pacific region, and in East Asia in particular.
Prior to its participation in the framework of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), namely the "10+3" framework, China has already become an active member of some sub-regional economic co-operation blocs, such as pushing for co-operation with nations in Northeast Asia, the Mekong River basin, and on the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea rims.
With trade and investment relations with neighboring countries prospering, China's awareness of regional economic co-operation has been strengthened.
The country now acts as an important driving force behind the "10+3" co-operation process in East Asia. In 2004, for example, its trade volume with countries in East Asia accounted for 48 percent of its total foreign trade volume.
China has also been actively pushing forward the Shanghai Co-operation Organization aimed at promoting co-operation with Central Asian nations.
With its original purpose being to promote security co-operation among members, the regional organization has now been expanded to reciprocal co-operation in other realms, such as economy, energy, information, environmental protection and natural resources.
Provided the current co-operation momentum is maintained, it is expected that China will set up a free trade zone with Central Asian neighbors like the one with ASEAN.
Following the signing of a free trade accord with ASEAN and its deepened co-operation with other neighbors, more members on the Asia-Pacific rim have shown a desire for co-operation with China under a bilateral economic and trade arrangement.
The country is embracing an all-round co-operation with members in the Asia-Pacific and even other regions.
There must, therefore, be a clear strategy for a new round of regional co-operation in the future.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
(China Daily December 22, 2005)