President Obama has made it clear that the that time to strengthen our economic and strategic ties to Asian Pacific nations is now. It believes that expanding its current free trade agreements (FTAs) around the globe is an essential non-military strategy to building and solidifying strategic international alliances. That is why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become the centerpiece of his “Pivot to East Asia.” As the administration and its allies lobby Congress, state governors, and key city mayors for the passage of the TPP agreement; it not only touts the positive impact of the TPP on the U.S economy,but it also paints an ominous landscape in which an ascendant China beats us to the punch and writes the trade rules for the region for decades to come should the agreement fail to be ratified. How much of what the administration is scare tactics vs. prudent concern?
Back on March 18, 2008 the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission held a hearing on “China’s Expanding Global Influence: Foreign Policy Goals, Practices, and Tools.” As a result of that hearing the commission concluded that:
“Chinese foreign policy has changed in ways that have significant effects on U.S. national interests and foreign relations strategy. China has increased its engagement rapidly in regions abroad, and it is seeking to expand its economic, military, and political influence—in some cases at the expense of the United States…the United States needs to have a more comprehensive diplomatic approach and defined policy towards China, continue engagement on multiple levels, and also hedge against the decline of American influence and international prestige.“
This was just before the Obama administration took office. Since taking office China has carried out an ambitious expansion of its economic ties around the world and carried out dangerously aggressive military policies in its own region.
China is currently pursuing its own FTA in the region. One of those agreements is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This agreement includes all of the ASEAN member nations along with six other nations: China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and India. The Obama administration believes that if America delays creating FTAs in the region, China will pursue a policy that will allow it to set the free trade rules in the region. China’s military ambitions are also increasingly aggressive. Through a serious of man made islands it created in the South China Sea, China has laid claim to previously designated international waters; setting it up for conflict with various of its neighbors.
In the last year, China has made moves to build up its strategic alliances at the expense of the United States’ interest. In September of this year North Korea tested a nuclear device. As a result, the U.S. announced that it intended to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea. This has upset some China, North Korea, and China. This has pushed these countries closer together in an informal alliance. This new loose alliance can be seen in what is playing out in the Philippines. The new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has taken an aggressive stance against the United States. He has been upset about American criticism regarding his murderous war on drugs. As a result he announced that this year would be the last time the Philippines would participate in war games with the U.S.. He has also considered asking American troops to leave his country. He also announced in a press interview that China and Russia had both offered support in place of an American alliance. He said that “he had received support from Russia and China when he complained to them about the United States.” As a result, the President Duarte announced that his country would seek out military equipment and closer ties to both China and Russia.
It’s hard to say at this early stage if the U.S. has the time sit on the TPP. And since the other TPP nations already made it clear they would not renegotiate the TPP, the U.S. would have to begin from scratch in order to produce another agreement. The last one took the the U.S. and the other nations seven years to finalize. You be the judge, but remember, China is already making its own pivot the Asia.