Completing negotiations for closer economic partnerships and accelerating talks for free trade agreements are on China’s trade schedule for 2020, making multilateralism and cooperation keys words of China’s Foreign Policies, said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“China will aim to complete negotiations for the China-EU bilateral investment treaty (BIT) and sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) within 2020, and speed up talks over a China-Japan-South Korea FTA,” Wang told a press conference on Sunday on the sidelines of the ongoing 13th National People’s Congress.

Wang stressed that China will uphold the multilateral trading system and promote the establishment of regional public health liaison mechanisms, so as to enhance public health cooperation and crisis response.

Pang Chaoran, Associate Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told that China will boost regional economic cooperation to counter trade protectionism.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shortcut global trade and led some countries, notably the US, to pursue protectionism which will create challenges to the globalisation process and trade liberalisation,” Pang said.

Regional cooperation is effective to drive trade. China-ASEAN trade increased in the first quarter of this year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which battered global trade. Total trade in goods between China and ASEAN grew 6.1 percent to more than $140 billion in the first quarter, making ASEAN China’s largest trading partner for the first time.

“The increased trade volume shows their confidence in each other’s development despite facing common challenges,” Wang said.

China’s Cooperation with ASEAN will be synergized with Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) supported by innovations including smart cities, artificial intelligence (AI) and e-commerce, Wang noted.

Over the past seven years, China has signed cooperation documents under the BRI with 138 countries, jointly launched more than 2,000 projects, which created tens of thousands of jobs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many infrastructure and livelihood projects under the auspices of the BRI have played an important role in fighting the disease, Wang said.

Despite the suspension of a large number of flights, the number China-Europe freight trains in the first four months of this year increased 24 percent year-on-year, with shipments rising 27 percent over the past year, which helped deliver 8,000 tons of medical supplies to help Europe fight the pandemic.