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China will attempt to further extend its economic influence along the Pacific Rim by pushing a free trade zone across the region at next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
An official told reporters in a briefing that China will promote the inception of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which would see trade tariffs fall across one of the world's fastest-growing economic regions.
China has not been included in the US-led negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its efforts to progress the FTAPP will no doubt be construed as a continued move by Beijing to counter US influence in the area.
In October, the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was launched in Beijing with a mandate to lending $50bn to projects across the Asia-Pacific region. The group included 21 nations, but the likes of Japan, Australia and South Korea – the US's closest allies in the region – were notable in their absence.
It was reported at the time that the US Secretary of State John Kerry personally asked Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott not to join the bank, while Korean officials say they are "negotiating with China" over membership.
However, Wang Shouwen, assistant minister of the Ministry of Commerce, has said that the FTAPP poses no threat to the TPP.
He told reporters: "We are hoping to make effective use of the role of APEC in coordinating and leading the unification of the region to complete the drafting of a roadmap involving the FTAAP.
"The bottom line is that we are discussing this concept. There are some different views about it. In general we endorse it."
The US is a member of Apec, however it remains to be seen whether it is willing to enter free trade negotiations with China. Fears persist over China's arbitrary flouting of anti-dumping laws and its perceived flagrant approach to intellectual property laws.
The 21 member states are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Republic of the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.
The AIIB has been described as a rival to the World Bank and its Asian counterpart, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is viewed as the most concrete move China has made in cementing its position at the top table of international trade policy.
"On one hand there's been talk of the AIIB being used to finance a lot of projects in South-East Asia as part of the "Maritime Silk Road" the leadership is talking about. You could make a case for having Chinese companies build or finance projects through a multilateral org would be viewed in China as a way to legitimise their economic expansion in South-East Asia and make it less threatening," Erica Downs, a Senior Analyst at the Eurasia Group told IBTimes UK.
This so-called "New Silk Road" is also likely to be on the agenda at the Apec Summit, which takes place in China on the 10 and 11 November. China is reported to be planning at $16.3bn investment in infrastructure linking Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
The funds are likely to come from the Chinese-government sponsored lending institutions including the China Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim) and, perhaps, the AIIB.
The Maritime Silk Road would extend trade links across the Indian Ocean, as far west as the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa. At a three-day international expo in Guangdong, which closed on Sunday 2 November, more than $28bn was pledged in contracts for the trade of commodities and infrastructure deals, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.