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China’s Trade Ambitions: Strategy and Objectives behind China’s Pursuit of Free Trade Agreements


This paper analyzes China’s preferential trade strategy and rationale. It finds that China has signed trade agreements primarily with countries that are neither significant in the global economy nor vital to China’s export sector. Indeed, several partners enjoy bilateral trade surpluses with China, and have comparative advantages in industries that China may want to protect from outside competition. The way in which China negotiates trade deals is also confounding. Unlike the United States, China appears to lack a modus operandi, so that the scope, strength, and details of its agreements vary widely. Some appear exceedingly generous to the trade partner, while others aggressively promote and protect domestic industries. With respect to services, investment, and other advanced provisions, China tends to fall well short of U.S. standards; yet it also demonstrates greater ambition and flexibility than developing country peers like India and Brazil.