Understanding China’s Foreign Policy: A Look at President Xi’s Recent Regional Meetings

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An overview of Xi Jinping’s meetings with APEC, BRICS, the East Asia Summit, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in November 2020.   

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

The Chinese President Xi Jinping has had a busy week the last few days, attending a flurry of important regional meetings that set out the stall as concerns China’s foreign policy.

These are not well covered meetings at all in the United States or European Union media as neither body is involved to any great degree. However, this does not mean they are of no interest – in fact many of them involve policy decisions that impact on both, affect billions of people and account for over 60 percent of total global GDP.

Businesses, investors, and analysts within the US, and especially the EU, should be paying attention to these summits as decisions made and commitments agreed at these also impact their own future economic development, supply chains, and trade corridors with Asia and Eurasia.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings were held in virtual format, and included the meetings below. For a full transcript of Xi Jinping’s speeches, full overviews of the summit’s discussions, and downloadable copies of the various declarations and commitments made, click on the full article text for each.

APEC 2020 Summit

This year’s meeting was virtually hosted by Malaysia, and was attended by the presidents of Chile, China, Indonesia, South Korea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, the US; the prime ministers of Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam; the Sultan of Brunei; the Chief Executive of Hong Kong; the Economic Minister of Mexico; and the Representative of the President of Taiwan.

APEC’s member economies are home to around 2.9 billion people and represent approximately 60 percent of global GDP and 48 percent of world trade. Total GDP of APEC nations was about US$50.2 trillion in 2019.

Brief highlights: 

  • Work continuing on potential FTAAP Free Trade Agreement  
  • COVID-19 vaccine and food security supply chains being developed  
  • Commitment to digitization innovation, infrastructure and e-commerce
  • Asian hopes for better engagement from incoming US President Biden 

Our full report on the APEC 2020 summit can be seen here

BRICS 2020 Summit 

The 2020 BRICS summit was hosted by Russia. Combined, the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa have a population of approximately 3.1 billion people – some 41 percent of the global population, and 18 percent of global trade.

They are especially useful to China as it is a pan-continental forum, and provides a platform for China to get involved with the Latin American trade bloc of Mercosur through the attendance of Brazil, and the African Continental Free Trade Area via South Africa.

Brief highlights: 

  • Massive co-operation in research, production, and distribution of COVID vaccines
  • Proposals to offer vaccines at low cost and develop supply chains
  • Calls to waive COVID-19 patent protections to reduce consumer costs
  • Some estimates that BRICS economies will account for 50 percent of global GDP by 2030  

Our complete report on the BRICS 2020 summit can be read here.

East Asia 2020 Summit   

This was the 15th East Asian Summit and was hosted by Vietnam. The grouping includes the ASEAN bloc, (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) together with Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and the US.

ASEAN holds the central role and leadership in the forum. EAS meetings are held after the annual ASEAN leaders’ meetings, playing an important role in the regional development of Asia-Pacific. This year the RCEP free trade deal was agreed at this event.

Brief highlights:

  • US$186 billion RCEP Free Trade Agreement signed 
  • Differences of opinion over South China Sea arbitration
  • Refocus on development of smart cities, digital tech cooperation 
  • Four declarations on marine sustainability, epidemics prevention, women peace & security, and regional growth all released 

Our full report on the 15th East Asian Summit can be seen here

Shanghai Cooperation Organization 2020 Summit 

Moscow hosted this year’s event, which included the presidents of full Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) members China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan, together with observer member states Belarus, Mongolia, Iran, and Afghanistan, with dialogue partners Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey, and Sri Lanka.

Guests included the ASEAN nations, CIS, Turkmenistan, the United Nations, and World Bank. SCO member states account for around 42 percent of the world’s population, 22 percent of the land area, and around 20 percent of global GDP. It effectively covers most of Eurasia and Asia up until the European Union and is a vital part of China’s Belt & Road interconnectivity plans.

Brief highlights: 

  • Better research and supply chain integration and cooperation in fighting COVID-19
  • Establishment of an epidemiological safety network
  • Calls for mutual trade settlement in national currencies

Our full report on the Shanghai Cooperation Summit 2020 can be read here.


As can be seen, a great deal of effort is being put into COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution. This will have a lasting impact, as new research cooperation is beginning between countries, most noticeably among the BRICS group. Additionally, as Asia looks to a post-COVID world, some of these collaborations and improved supply chains are going to filter down into everyday manufacturing and product distribution networks. This is especially true of trade and logistics delivery developments between Asia and Africa. Russia too, with its technical expertise, is looking to be far more involved in Asia and Africa than ever before. All will impact on future manufacturing hubs being developed across the globe, being additionally enhanced by trade incentives, such as the tariff reductions that deals like RCEP provide, a theme also taken up by the APEC summits.

The question mark revolves around the future participation of the US in the region. President Trumps’ appearance at APEC has not made any impact except for a brief late, tired, and sulky cameo. President-elect Joe Biden meanwhile has a lot of problems to solve in the US, and we feel it unlikely he will be rolling back any trade concessions soon. India’s decision to pull out of RCEP has also minimized its regional clout, I explained the reasons – and risks behind that decision in this article here. Having said that, the US may make more of an effort to target India as an alternative to China, although that means taking on the country’s powerful business leadership, not keen on opening up their markets.

China, however, is doing more to open up its domestic markets, along with the rest of ASEAN, Australia, and New Zealand. Japan and South Korea, despite their RCEP commitments, have traditionally been hard to penetrate and may still prove elusive to access. Russia, meanwhile, is in a desperate search for new markets after its sanctions problems and is turning to Asia to solve these. Understanding how this all fits together is becoming increasingly important. For on-going business news, opinion, and analysis about China and the rest of Asia as concerns foreign trade and investment, see our catch-all news portal at Asia Briefing, which updates daily.

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