India announced this month it was withdrawing from the China-backed regional trade pact, citing the RCEP 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 are not thinking about that at all yet,” deputy minister for economy, trade and industry Hideki Makihara, said in an interview. “All we are thinking of is negotiations including India.” 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 countries are also part of four-way security talks with Australia and the US 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,” Makihara said of the inclusion of the world’s largest democracy in the pact. “Japan will continue to try to persuade India to join.”
Trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama will accompany Abe on next month’s trip to India, Makihara said.
The other countries taking part in the RCEP talks are Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, 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 US. An agreement would further integrate Asia’s economies with China just as US President Donald Trump’s administration urges nations in the region to shun Chinese infrastructure loans and 5G telecommunications technology.