Trans Pacific Partnership a powerful shift against China’s economic power in Asia

2.03 PM Saturday November 7 2015

by Ed Kennedy

For all the deeper and in-depth aspects of the Trans Pacific Partnership – with the full text released this week showing there are gains and losses dependent on where you reside – this is undoubtedly a deal that has signified a powerful victory for the United States of America in Asia.

Accordingly, so too has it done so for Washington’s allies – though granted amidst a far more complicated region faced by Canberra, Tokyo, Seoul and Manila than just a decade ago.

The full list of participating nations; the United States of America, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam certainly represent a diverse bunch of nations. Yet, within them can be seen either stalwart US Allies (such as Japan and Canada) or nations with a tradition of greater fluidity in the foreign policy – such a New Zealand and Vietnam – that share concerns over what China’s potential rise to the most powerful nation in Asia (and down the line, the entire world) could mean for them.

This is especially true of Vietnam – who while in decades prior could hardly been regarded as a strategic partner or ally of Washington – is now nonetheless drawing ever-closer to the US, following growing anxiety about China’s perceived territorial incursions and aggression in Asian waters, notwithstanding recent diplomatic advances between Beijing and Hanoi.

Vietnam's participation in the TPP underscores a Hanoi's concerns over China's rise

Vietnam’s participation in the TPP underscores a Hanoi’s concerns over China’s rise

The agreement shall kiss goodbye to “98 percent of all tariffs between the 12 [participating] nations including Australia” – yet the substance of this economic deal is informed in its importance by the wider playing field in which it exists. Namely, we now reside in the initial decades of the 2000’s in what is predicted to be a long contest for supremacy of power in Asia between the United States of American and the People’s Republic of China. With the former lies the advancement of precedent and incumbency – America has been the undisputed leader of regional affairs the since 1990. With its era has come a relative peace and certainty surrounding Asian affairs and regional security.

Yet, with China lies a profound and powerful economic growth – with the PRC now the 2nd largest economy in the world and having regular achieved an annual GDP growth of over 7% – and an ability to promise a powerful narrative that America is simply unable to offer. Though the political and cultural influences of this contrast necessarily something of a simplification it is as follows; Washington has an ongoing commitment to the rhetoric and support of a democratic, human rights-based, liberal dialogue – Beijing has no such thing.

Therefore, notwithstanding the reality of politics – and what political theorists would regard as the United States ‘now and then’ pursuit of a realist doctrine within Asia; when it comes to articulating the belief in universal freedom and human rights; it is clear the United States has form. Indeed, this reality was reflected in a recent exchange between US Vice President Joe Biden and PRC President Xi Jinping.  

Within it, Xi asked how it was that the U.S. placed “so much emphasis on human rights.” The following is Joe Biden’s response recorded within an excellent piece of Xi by Evan Osnos in The New Yorker;

“No President of the United States could represent the United States were he not committed to human rights,”[said Biden] and went on, “If you don’t understand this, you can’t deal with us. President Barack Obama would not be able to stay in power if he did not speak of it. So look at it as a political imperative. It doesn’t make us better or worse. It’s who we are. You make your decisions. We’ll make ours.”

“It’s who we are” informs the United States within Asia at present time, and does so amidst no small amount of anguish. This is because China by contrast offers Asian powers (and increasingly those within the African continent where its influence is growing immensely each year) the narrative ‘you need not choose’.

You need not choose between an embrace of human rights, democratic progression and all other manner of political creed the US holds dear – and your real and tangible economic relationship with China. This narrative from Beijing suits both its domestic and foreign affairs pursuits.

By espousing a foreign policy that does not seek to emphasise or impress upon other nations values other nations would regard as universal, Beijing at once has a freer hand in foreign policy than Washington enjoys; alongside the absence of any blow back at home for failing to advance and reform the political system so many regard the Communist Party of China (CPC) of stalling and delaying for their own benefit and ongoing security.

So, what does this all have to do with the TPP? After recent years in which China has scored an array of powerful victories over the US – not least of which in undertaking actions in response to President Obama’s much-vaunted Pivot to/Rebalance within Asia that flied in the face of Washington’s policy – the TPP has provided an effective arm by which the US and its core strategic allies (namely Tokyo, Ottawa and Canberra) can exert a pressure of Beijing via the codification and implementation of a new array of economic foundations that seek to lock in recognition of practices such as recognition and observance of copyright – that Beijing has otherwise been willing to turn a blind eye too.

This to say, come what may in the incidental sparring between the US and Beijing amidst the Spratly Islands next week – just as they engaged in some brinkmanship in the week prior – when it comes to events that shift with a significance the wider contest between the US and China; the TPP was a powerful declaration of territorial rights; and was obtained without a single submarine or recon flight being required.

For those keen on for a reason to seek out a quiet coffee or a strong cocktail this afternoon, the full text of the TPP can be found and read here.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

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