The Chinese government has expressed unwillingness to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the absence of the United States, instead favouring its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop on Tuesday night to discuss free trade agreements, with Wang suggesting a lean towards more open and inclusive deals that are also less rigid.
The Chinese foreign minister added that the goal is to form an Asia-Pacific free trade area through the RCEP pathway, which he said China is hopeful will be finalised in 2017.
"It [a free trade agreement] should fully accommodate the level of comfort of all parties, and reflect the different levels of development of different countries," Wang said through an interpreter.
"Maybe one path is not working for the moment, but there are other pathways."
Bishop told media that despite Wang's statements, the Australian government is still offering the TPP option to China.
"There is always the opportunity for other nations prepared to meet those standards and embrace the principles of the TPP to join," Bishop said.
"I would certainly encourage China to consider the agreement."
China was not included in the original TPP deal, which was signed in February 2016 by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile.
The TPP was dumped by US President Donald Trump on his first week in office, and with US withdrawal, it cannot come into force; it was negotiated under the condition that a minimum of six countries with a combined GDP of 85 percent of the 12 signatories must ratify it.
As the US accounts for 60 percent of the combined GDP, the TPP cannot come into effect without either changes being made to the conditions -- or another large economy, such as China, taking the US' place.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month said the TPP can still be salvaged, possibly by opening it up to China, given that it is unlikely the US will change its protectionist policy.
The US' withdrawal occurred in spite of repeated warnings that Trump risks "abdicating" trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region by refusing to ratify it, as this would create an opportunity for China to step in with its RCEP deal and consequently put millions of jobs across the US at risk.
At least half of the nations involved in the TPP have followed the US' decision by saying they will instead consider Chinese-led multilateral trade deals, such as the RCEP.
New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Australia, Peru, and Malaysia have all signalled continued conversations and negotiations with the remaining TPP nations to consider ratification, as well as examining RCEP or other trade deals with China.
The RCEP is currently being negotiated between China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Australian Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee recommended that Australia undertake further negotiations with its "major trading partners" prior to taking any binding treaty action on the TPP, with an additional recommendation that the government also reforms its treaty-making process.
"The committee's view is the Australian government should defer any binding treaty action in relation to the TPP and focus on engaging with its trading partners to negotiate multilateral, regional, or bilateral trade agreements which are in Australia's interests and can be agreed and implemented in a timely manner," the committee said.
The Senate report also pointed to several "troubling aspects" of the TPP, including provisions that would have the effect of locking in Australia's intellectual property regime -- following concerns from Australia's copyright industry -- and "ambiguity" in the data protection provisions, as well as a lack of independent economic analysis.
In addition, the Senate committee backed up a recommendation by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which suggested that the government look into altering its free trade agreement-negotiating process so as to allow security-cleared business and civil representatives to take part, consider allowing an entity such as the Productivity Commission to conduct an independent analysis of any possible trade agreement, and that the government expedite these reforms.