BEIJING, Jan. 14 (Xinhua) -- Coming into force at the beginning of the year, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's largest free trade deal, set "multilateralism" as a key word for Asia-Pacific region in 2022.
This year China took over as the chair of BRICS and will host the 14th BRICS Summit, while the APEC Informal Leaders' Retreat, the Group of 20 Leaders' Summit, and meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will also be held in Asian countries throughout the year, providing solid multilateral platforms for global leaders to address economic and pandemic challenges facing the global community.
Meanwhile, the surging Omicron variant, humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and irresponsible political and military actions taken by the United States still cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future of the region.
VICTORY FOR MULTILATERALISM
After eight years of negotiations, 15 Asia-Pacific countries, covering about 30 percent of the global population, gross domestic product and trade volume, in November 2020 signed the RCEP deal, which came into force on Jan. 1, 2022.
According to China's Ministry of Commerce, within the RCEP framework, over 90 percent of the import tariffs between participating countries would be phased out, bringing benefits to both enterprises and consumers.
The import and export of goods worth more than 1.4 trillion U.S. dollars annually between China and other RCEP members will thus be subject to preferential tariffs, it added.
The entry into force of the agreement is of great significance in promoting regional trade, reinforcing the industrial and supply chains and quickening global economic recovery from the pandemic.
"In addition to tariff reduction, the RCEP has also set a benchmark for economic and trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region," said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin, hailing the rollout of the pact as "a major victory for multilateralism and free trade."
Despite the rays of hope brought by the pact, the prospect for economic recovery in Asia-Pacific remains uncertain due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which has triggered another wave of pandemic in the region since late 2021. Countries are once again forced to impose strict control measures and boost vaccination drives. Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst, Asia-Pacific countries are walking a tightrope at the year's beginning.
In Afghanistan, humanitarian crisis is worsening, as the United Nations' World Food Program warned earlier that the country is facing "an avalanche of hunger and destitution."
If the crisis is not alleviated, Afghanistan may again fall into turmoil and chaos and turn into a hotbed of extremist and terrorist organizations, endangering regional security and stability.
The United States, who plunged Afghanistan into a dire situation following the two-decade war and imposed unilateral sanctions on the country after its hasty flight, should absolutely take the blame for aggravating the already miserable humanitarian crisis.
Apart from in Afghanistan, Washington, a longtime trouble maker in the region, has also been spreading lies and erecting obstacles in the Pacific by setting up exclusive blocs such as AUKUS and Quad, putting in peril regional peace and stability.
Facing economic and security risks, regional countries should uphold true multilateralism and stand in even stronger solidarity for cooperation, analysts said. ■