Debate: Topic and Outline
>>> 当院論評 Comｍents By Chiba
>>> 本文英訳 Translation By Ishibashi
In September, China and Taiwan applied for membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In particular, actions against China will have an enormous impact not only on the Asia-Pacific but also on the world order.
TPP is not just an economic framework. Led by Japan, the US and other countries, it was designed to create extremely transparent and fair rules for trade and data distribution, and to encourage China to join in. In other words, it is an “alliance of rules against China.”
However, the composition has changed dramatically. The US, the key player, withdrew during the Trump administration, and the TPP was signed by 11 countries without the US, and came into effect at the end of 2018. The Biden administration is alco cautious about returning to the TPP.
China saw the absence of the US as the great opportunity to join the TPP. It wants to deepen its involvement and make it a China-led economic zone.
How should TPP members respond? Officials and experts have two conflicting views.
One is that China should be actively encouraged to join. For China to join the TPP, it has to loosen the distribution of data between foreign countries, and stop favoring state-owned enterprises through government procurement and subsidies, as well as forced labor.
The idea is that joining the TPP is the perfect opportunity to force China to make these reforms and change its heterogeneous system.
The other view is that we should take a cautious approach to China’s accession. I agree with this view in conclusion.
To proceed to accession negotiations, China must first agree to fulfill its obligations under the TPP. But since it is difficult to fully meet the conditions, it may ask for some exceptional treatment. If it does, the TPP will be transformed into a “China standard.” This is one reason.
But there is a bigger reason for caution: new membership in the TPP requires the consent of all member countries. If China were to join first, it would be able to “veto” the accession of the US, as well as Taiwan.
The US would then be permanently excluded, and a China-led TPP would take root in the Asia-Pacific. The supply chain will be further embedded in China, and the economic order will turn red. In fact, China has drawn up a national strategy similar to this.
The impact on national security is also immeasurable. In the spring of 2015, then US Secretary of Defense Jimmy Carter said that the US accession to the TPP was as important as doubling the number of aircraft carrier task force deployed in Asia. On the other hand, if China were to take control of the TPP, the US would lose more than just one of these units.
China has already begun to exert influence on the TPP from the outside. After applying for membership on September 16, President Xi Jinping, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and senior officials from the Ministry of Commerce split up to make phone calls to the five TPP member countries.
According to media reports, in a series of phone calls, China won the welcome and support of Brunei, Mexico and New Zealand for its application. China is now ready to step up its outreach efforts to gather support for the start of accession negotiations.
“It is only a matter of time before Japan, Australia, Canada, and other countries that are cautious about accepting China’s membership are forced to bury their moats,” said one voice from within the TPP.
The formal start of negotiations requires the consent of all member countries, which China may not be able to obtain immediately. Nevertheless, if China’s goal is to divide the TPP and make it less “anti-China,” it is already achieving its objective.
What should be done to halt this trend and preserve the TPP as an alliance of rules? With this in mind, I wrote in the electronic version of my article published on September 23 that the first priority should be to encourage the US to return to the TPP rather than hasten negotiations for China’s accession. In addition to voices in favor of the idea, I also received criticism that the US would not be able to return.
It is true that even if President Biden is willing to do so, the road to his return is steep. According to the US government sources, there is a deep-rooted rejection of the TPP not only among Trump supporters in the Republican Party, but also on the Democratic left, which is close to labor unions. This is because many see free trade as a source of increased unemployment.
At the September 24 summit between Japan, the US, Australia, and India, then Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called for the US to return to the TPP. According to Japanese government sources, Mr. Biden did not give any assurances, but said he would “consider” the impact of China’s application.
Secretary of State Blinken reportedly gave a similar response to the TPP issue at the Japan-US foreign ministers’ meeting on September 22.
Matthew Goodman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an expert on US international economic policy said: “The possibility of the US returning to the TPP is still there. China’s application is an opportunity for Biden to take a serious look at the TPP issue and reconsider his options. For example, it is possible that he will express interest in the TPP and mention the conditions for returning to the TPP in a speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November”.
Even if Biden does move to return to the TPP, he will probably seek to renegotiate it to include provisions that are more likely to be understood by US workers. The talks are likely to take a long time.
If this is the case, it is even less desirable to rush into negotiations with China, which is far from the TPP standard. We should maintain our goal of extending free, transparent and fair rules to the Asia-Pacific and respond cautiously to China’s accession.
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