Monday, January 23, 2017

Good News? Trump Has Rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership

The New York Times is reporting that Trump has said "no" to the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP.

With Junior in trail that presumably takes Canada off the TPP hook. We'll see.

Are global trade deals now dead? Depends on who you listen to. There's one school that thinks Trump's bullying may spur the rise of defensive trade pacts, deals that don't include the United States, but seek to offset any trade damage that Trumpland chooses to inflict. We'll see.

Now it's rarely mentioned by TPP friends or foes but the Trans Pacific Partnership is about much more than trade. Look at the countries who are "in" the deal and the nation that is decidedly "out." The omission is glaring. It's China.

The TPP was always intended to isolate China, to contain China, to ostracize it from its neighbours.

This "Pacific century" seems to boil down, so far, to enforcing an already embattled TPP. Bantarto Bandoro, from the Indonesian Defense University, seemed to get closer to the real picture when he told the Jakarta Globe, "this could be the beginning of the end of American global dominance."

Not for nothing did this impassioned plea for the TPP come from a retired, four star US Navy admiral, Jim Stavridis who likened a defeat of the pact as akin to an American Brexit.

The case for the TPP is economically strong, but the geopolitical logic is even more compelling. The deal is one that China will have great difficulty accepting, as it would put Beijing outside a virtuous circle of allies, partners, and friends on both sides of the Pacific. Frankly, that is a good place to keep China from the perspective of the United States, and the treaty thus brings together not only Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and other Asian partners, but also Chile, Mexico, Canada, and Peru. 

Stavridis argument for the TPP is threefold: 1. China is on the march in Asia. 2. This is a moment of real vulnerability for many Asian nations. 3. Sending US aircraft carriers into the region is not enough.

Over 2,500 years ago, during the Zhou dynasty, the philosopher-warrior Sun Tzu wrote the compelling study of conflict The Art of War. There is much wisdom in that slim volume, including this quote: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” The United States can avoid conflict best in East Asia by using a robust combination of national tools — with the TPP at the top of the list. Looking across the Atlantic to the Brexit debacle, we must avoid repeating the mistake in the Pacific.

The clear winner if the United States rejects the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be China, and an increasingly authoritarian and regionally dominant President Xi Jinping will be cheering the loudest.


We may be witnessing the Troubled Teen's first major foreign policy debacle. Reader Chris has sent a link to an item from the Japanese news service, NHK World.

Officials of the Japanese and Chinese governments have agreed to move forward with talks on another economic partnership as the prospects for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are unclear.

The officials met in Tokyo on Wednesday, with Japanese Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Keiichi Katakami and Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Gao Yan attending.

They agreed on advancing talks on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. The 16 member countries include Japan, China, and Southeast Asian countries, but not the United States.

Trump may have just dealt America straight out of Asia. Boy, if Beijing inks the right deal we may be seeing the emergency of a new "reserve currency," the yuan.

Update #2

Michael Harris of iPolitics nailed it when he wrote:  "As speeches go, Donald Trump’s inaugural address had fewer grace notes than a death threat."

Continuing with this theme, Foreign Policy's Hunter Marston writes  that "Trump has nothing to offer Asia but threats."

Donald Trump’s executive order ending America’s commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership has left U.S. allies like Japan and Australia aghast at the waste of time and effort on what was once a signature — and effective — policy in the region. His “America First” refrain in his inauguration speech, with all its suggestions of a widespread retrenchment of U.S resources from the Pacific, was equally disturbing.

But they should be at least as alarmed by the contrary indications that Trump is intent on a newly assertive foreign policy in Asia, one more reliant on hard power. That latter vision, especially in combination with the former, is no less dangerous for America’s friends in the region.

...By preemptively eliminating tools like economic statecraft from its foreign-policy toolbox, the Trump administration will be leaving itself with only hard power to counteract China’s ambitions. That would probably mean an attempted military blockade against the Chinese navy in the South China Sea.

But that raises a host of other questions: Is the Trump administration prepared to risk major conflict with China? What costs would they be willing to suffer in a clash far from American shores in Beijing’s backyard? And would America’s allies welcome such a clash?

American credibility rests on its ability to follow through on economic and security commitments. As Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “If at the end of it all you let [Abe] down, which next Japanese prime minister is going to count on you — not just on trade but on security?” Lee also noted the implicit connection between American trade and security commitments: “If you are not prepared to deal when it comes to cars and services and agriculture, can we depend on you when it comes to security and military arrangements?”

...Without economic statecraft, the United States is a less attractive competitor for Asian countries, which will join alternative trade deals like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which does not include the United States.

All too pleased, China is reaping large gains as the United States pulls back. Though not diametrically opposed to the TPP (both deals include Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and Vietnam), the RCEP is nearing completion with some nudging from Beijing.

Although America’s friends in Asia might not be as enthusiastic about the comparatively modest RCEP, they support the developing trade architecture out of pragmatism. Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, warned of this outcome in 2013 when he told a journalist from the Atlantic, “Without an FTA [with the United States], Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the ASEAN countries will be integrated into China’s economy — an outcome to be avoided.”

What a mess and it's of Trump's own, sophomoric making. Just as admiral Stavridis warned, he's reduced American foreign policy in Asia to a military option. Could Trump back America into a war with China? In a word, yes. He's that arrogant, that clumsy, that myopic. Worse, as Mark Urban writes in "The Edge," we in the West have developed a fanciful notion of warfare. 

"This stems from a belief that selective military action against some of the symptoms of growing global disorder, such as air strikes against Islamic militants, involves state killing and is therefore 'war.' Well, it may be, but only in the sense that buying a chocolate bar or a private jet can both be called shopping. Campaigns such as those against the Islamic State or Somali privates involve taking life on the scale of industrial accidents, and below that of road traffic smashes. This type of action is not, critically, a struggle between two or more societies in which a nation is mobilised and asked to make sacrifices. Those countries that plan seriously for war between states, from Russia to China or Israel, almost all have national service."

1 comment:

chris said...

Busy, I'll just leave this here.