Facing US trade uncertainty, China seeks closer ties with neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a bilateral meeting with China’s Premier Li Keqiang in southwest China’s Sichuan province on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 December 2019

Facing US trade uncertainty, China seeks closer ties with neighbors

  • Beijing willing to strengthen economic cooperation with Japan in third-country markets, says prime minister

CHENGDU: China made overtures on trade to Japan and South Korea and offered support for an infrastructure initiative as it hosted the leaders of its two neighbors this week amid strained ties with the US.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday at a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Beijing was willing to strengthen economic cooperation with Japan in third-country markets.

At the meeting on the sidelines of a trilateral summit in the southwestern city of Chengdu, Li added that China would “further open up its services industry” to Japan.

During a separate meeting on Monday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Li said China was willing to work on a rail network linking Korea with China and Europe, Yonhap news agency reported.

Li’s remarks come as China and the United States edge closer to an initial trade agreement after imposing tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods over nearly two years in a bruising trade war that has hit the global economy.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump touted a “very good talk” he had held with China’s President Xi Jinping on a deal to resolve the dispute.

However, details of the so-called “phase one” deal between the world’s two largest economies have yet to be published in writing, with officials citing incomplete translation and legal work.

Meanwhile, relations between the pair have been further strained by US legislators’ support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and their condemnation of the mass internment of Muslim minorities in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

Li stressed on Wednesday the importance of China’s trade ties with Japan and South Korea, saying their vast volume of trade was due to the “joint protection of regional stability and peace.”

China, Japan and South Korea held a summit on Tuesday that also touched on a planned free-trade agreement between the three nations, which has been many years in the making.

Trade among the trio was worth more than $720 billion in 2018, according to a joint statement issued Tuesday night by the leaders.

The countries will “speed up the negotiations” on the agreement and “strive to realize a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment”, the statement said.

The leaders plan for the new trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to build on a separate, sprawling China-backed Asian trade pact, which if signed would be the world’s biggest trade deal.

That pact, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was meant to account for 30 percent of global GDP and loop in half of the world’s people.

But India rejected the RCEP deal at a summit in November, dealing it a major blow.

The remaining members of RCEP, which include all 10 ASEAN states plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, are aiming to sign it next year after reviewing an agreed draft text.

“Negotiations on the trilateral FTA will become more active as soon as they are able to conclude the negotiation on RCEP,” Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson Masato Otaka said Tuesday.


Creditors take action against Al Jaber in decade-long saga

Updated 23 September 2020

Creditors take action against Al Jaber in decade-long saga

  • The downturn in the Gulf construction sector has triggered a number of corporate restructurings as companies are forced to reschedule debt, raise fresh borrowing or enter insolvency protection

DUBAI: Creditors have started to enforce claims against Abu Dhabi-based Al Jaber Group, in a dispute triggered by a construction downturn in the UAE more than a decade ago.

Al Jaber, a contractor with interests across a range of sectors, has struggled since building up debt in the wake of a UAE real estate crisis and began talks with creditors in 2011.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, which is working as restructuring and security agent, said in a document dated Sept. 21 which was seen by Reuters, that it had instructions from the majority of creditors to proceed with claims against Al Jaber.

A representative for Al Jaber did not immediately respond to a request or comment. ADCB declined to comment.

The move follows delays in restructuring agreements, under which Al Jaber was to appoint a new board and sell companies and assets such as the Shangri-La hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In exchange, creditors had agreed to extend the maturity of a 5.9 billion dirhams ($1.61 billion) loan, cut interest rates, and provide additional revolving debt.

The initial enforcement action now being pursued by creditors includes the “acceleration and demand for payment of amounts outstanding” under the previously agreed debt restructuring, a source familiar with the matter said.

Enforcement will also allow creditors to claim against Al Jaber’s chairman under a 4.5 billion dirham loan to the company.

Several UAE companies have sought to extend debt maturities or agree better terms in recent years to avoid defaults, after an oil price crash hit energy services and construction.

The coronavirus crisis has added to the strain and Arabtec Holding, the UAE’s biggest listed contractor, this week will discuss options including dissolution after the pandemic hit projects and led to additional costs.

Meanwhile, Dubai-listed construction firm Drake & Scull is working to reach an agreement with its creditors in an out-of-court process.