Soon after Brics expansion announcement, China says India free to join RCEP trade bloc

NEW DELHI (Reuters): India is free to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), China’s Vice Commerce Minister Wang Shouwen said on Friday in New Delhi, adding that it would boost trade between India and China which is growing “very fast”, Reuters reported.

The RCEP is the world’s largest trade bloc backed by China and groups 15 Asia-Pacific economies, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Interestingly, the statement comes soon after BRICS bloc of developing nations agreed on Thursday to admit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt and Argentina in a move aimed at accelerating its push to reshuffle a world order it sees as outdated.

Read more: BRICS welcomes new members in push to reshuffle world order

In deciding in favour of an expansion – the bloc’s first in 13 years – BRICS leaders left the door open to future enlargement as dozens more countries voiced interest in joining a grouping they hope can level the global playing field.

Reuters mentions that relations have soured between the two nuclear-armed neighbours after clashes at a disputed border site in Ladakh in the western Himalayas resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers in June 2020.

Shouwen, speaking during a discussion at the ‘Business 20 summit’ of G20 member nations, said it was India’s decision whether to join the RCEP and that the door was “always open”.

India’s Trade Minister Piyush Goyal, who chaired the discussion, said trade between India and China is growing but “largely skewed in China’s favour”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to China’s President Xi Jinping about India’s concerns over unresolved border issues on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg this week.

Both sides agreed to intensify efforts to disengage and de-escalate, India’s foreign secretary told reporters on Thursday.

Xi told Modi that improving China-India relations served the interests of the two countries and was conducive to peace, stability, and development, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency, which said the meeting was at Modi’s request.