In America, some are rejoicing, some are weeping over Donald Trump’s triumph in the 2016 presidential campaign. On this side of the Pacific, we care more about the immediate future of the area.
Currently, the most important free-trade regimes in the Asia-Pacific include RCEP, which involves the 10 ASEAN countries and China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, and the TPP that has 12 founding members. Both RCEP and TPP are important paths towards the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Either will define the FTAAP’s basic landscape as long as it can touch down first and become operational with high standards.
The United States and 11 other countries announced on October 5, 2015 that they have completed TPP negotiations. But there is a long way to go from signing the agreement to TPP coming into operation. While the agreement undergoes examination and approval at their respective legislatures, the other 11 founding members are closely watching corresponding progress in the US, the member with the largest economy.
Inside the US, on one hand, presidential candidates of both parties have voiced resistance against TPP, with Trump opposing it most fiercely. A tendency toward trade protectionism is constantly on the rise.
On the other hand, wrangling over the contents of the agreement has been quite conspicuous within the US Congress. Some members believe the US side has endowed the agreement with excessive political colors, making it an important pillar of the country’s strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific. As an economic agreement, TPP does not include many clauses that would bring the US practical benefits.
Given the various troubles at home, the prospects for TPP may become even more diminished after Trump takes over. In Asia, Singapore, whose economy relies heavily on international trade and who has made every effort to push ahead TPP negotiations, has expressed anxiety and disappointment to the US. Singaporean Vice Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam stated in a recent interview that if the US fails to approve TPP, its credibility and status in Asia will suffer badly. In Vietnam, the government has just decided to again postpone approving TPP. In Japan, the Diet lower house’s special TPP committee passed TPP on Nov 4, thus pressing the US to do the same.
Obviously TPP will not come into effect until all 12 members approve it. But the other 11 would not indefinitely wait for US approval. Seven TPP founding members are at the same time RCEP members, and they have indicated explicitly that they would improve signing parties’ market access conditions and facilitate the accomplishment of the new trade agreement.
TPP has thus become a yardstick for gauging US government credibility. It is imaginable that RCEP will fill the gap left by the failure of TPP once it can’t get approval in the US. Then the US will find itself in an awkward position in the face of the new pattern of global economy and trade brought by new economic and trade rules in the region.
TPP seems to have been laden with tremendous US economic, security and geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific. Judging from reality, however, the US needs to carefully reconsider domestic politics and Asia-Pacific economy, and make new TPP strategies with a more inclusive, open mindset.
Considering the loud opposition against TPP in America now, it will be even more difficult for the US to support FTAAP. Some analysts hold that, with TPP’s prospect getting dimmer and RCEP’s brighter, there may be gradual changes in the US, China and Japan’s positions in trade.
In fact, China-US relations have solid and rich strategic connotations. On one hand, economic and trade cooperation is one of the key aspects of China-US relations. Maintaining stable economic and trade relations are in both countries’ interests. With bilateral trade growing 0.6% and reaching $558.39 billion in 2015, China has become the US’ No. 1 trading partner. On the other hand, the impacts of China-US economic and trade cooperation have reached far beyond bilateral ties, fine China-US economic and trade ties will help shore up global economic confidence.
Facing such global economic challenges as the lackluster growth of advanced economies and weakening anticipation of global trade growth, China and the US should proceed from regional and global interests, take advantage of the power of rules to jointly formulate new pattern of economic and trade relations; jointly facilitate the accomplishment of high-level bilateral investment agreements; and jointly make trade in the Asia-Pacific region more liberal and convenient.
The fine momentum of deepening China-US cooperation in various areas will inevitably extend into the upcoming new US presidency. Donald Trump and his team, who have won the election under the banner of “Make America Great Again”, should see that joining hands with China in the Asia-Pacific will not only result in a win-win scenario for both counties, but will provide the struggling world economy with twin engines, as well as dual motivating forces for global governance reform.