China, CPTTP and Indo-Pacific region


– New perspectives from the East

ON SEPTEMBER 17, 2021, the Xinhua News Agency of the People’s Republic of China reported that the previous day, the country’s Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, sent an official request to join the Global Agreement regional alliance and progressive for the transpacific. Partnership during a teleconference with his New Zealand counterpart, Damien O’Connor. New Zealand is the custodian of the CPTPP.

This call was not a total surprise, because in November 2020, Xi Jinping raised the possibility of “considering favorably” such a prospect during speeches during a regular video-summit of the member countries of the Asia-Economic Cooperation. Peaceful.

The event is very remarkable in the evolution of the political situation not only in the Indo-Pacific region but also around the world, as the center of the “big game” of the globe has shifted to this region ago. long time. Apparently, the leaders of the Euro-Atlantic region have not yet fully understood this.

With the exception of the leader of them, that is to say who remains the United States. It began to shift strategic attention from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region in the second half of the 2000s. In particular, the Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces began to strengthen and to its name the prefix ” Indo ”was added. At present, a large part of the country’s armed forces is concentrated in this command.

The reason is simple and obvious. It is associated with the rapid and global growth of China, which has de facto become the second world power. The opposition of the “old” world power to the “new” is just as global. This has always been the case throughout history; as, for example, at the turn of the 20th century.

In other words, by exploiting all the means of resistance, the military component had to be supplemented by economic measures. The latter was to be a kind of regional union under the de facto leadership of Washington, within which the flow of goods and services (over time) would be carried out without any customs restrictions. To this end, in 2008 the United States joined the initially very modest Trans-Pacific Partnership project, which by the mid-2010s already included 12 of the countries in the region – five Asians (Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan) , five Americans (Canada, Mexico, Peru, United States and Chile), as well as Australia and New Zealand.

In February 2016, an agreement was signed in Auckland, New Zealand, in which ministerial representatives from the 12 participating countries announced the successful conclusion of negotiations on the creation of the TPP, which lasted more than five years. In the same document, the event was called a historic achievement in the Asia-Pacific region, and this thesis was supported by impressive figures: the participating countries hold 800 million inhabitants, together producing 40% of the world’s gross domestic product, and the total volume of their foreign trade is equal to a third of that of the world. Based on these indicators, the TTP was supposed to overtake the European Union.

But at the end of the same year, Donald Trump won the American presidential elections, after expressing the interests of that part of the country’s population which has always been weighed down by the weight of obligations abroad. With the first executive order after his inauguration in January 2017, the new president withdrew the United States from the TPP alliance, a potential source of threats to the American economy. After that, the dominant view in expert circles was that the TPP project could be forgotten.

However, the abandoned toy of the first world power (dropped out of boredom) was, after a while, taken over by Japan, which oiled it, polished it and convinced the 10 other participating countries of its usefulness and its usefulness. efficiency. And on December 30, 2018, the updated agreement (relating to the US withdrawal) went into effect, after the number of those who ratified it exceeded half of the alliance’s membership. At the same time, two additional letters appear at the beginning of the acronym: CP, meaning “global” and “progressive”.

The CPTPP’s “representative” numbers now seem, of course, much more modest than in 2016 (after all, the great world power has left the alliance), but they still deserve attention. Above all, the project is working quite satisfactorily. It is for this reason that other countries are showing increased interest in joining the CPTPP, including those located far from the region.

In the first half of this year, the UK, very uneasy after its withdrawal from the EU, became the first new member to go through the full alliance membership process. A formal appeal was submitted to the CPTPP by the UK on February 1 and it was admitted into the alliance on June 2. Since the CPTPP was enlarged by the country with the sixth largest economy in the world and which retains significant political influence over the stage world, this act will undoubtedly help to increase the authority of both the alliance as a whole and the Japan, who is its informal leader.

It seems that this trend is only set to strengthen if China potentially admits the CPTPP, which is the world’s second-largest economy. However, a few clarifying remarks are in order here.

First of all, China maintains difficult political relations with almost all the members of the alliance, especially with its “leaders”: Japan, Australia, Canada and now also the United Kingdom.

In early September, a British squadron arrived in the Japanese port of Yokosuka for the first time in decades. The appearance of the fleet, led by the last aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, which participated in international training exercises in Okinawa with a clearly anti-Chinese subtext, illustrates the real state of these relations. By the way, comments on these exercises in the Japanese press are accompanied by a mention that they correspond to the general shift in British foreign policy preference towards the Indo-Pacific region. In particular, the entry of the United Kingdom into the CPTPP bears witness to this.

As for Australia and Canada, the two countries, almost continuously and on various occasions, display a hostile attitude towards China (to put it mildly). In particular, Australia’s last such act was its role (along with the UK and US) in forming the UKUS, a trilateral military-political configuration.

Second, the United States (since the previous administration) has periodically hinted at the possibility of reverting to CPTPP. Its members promise not only to “not dwell on the evil and to forgive everything”, but also to give the “prodigal father” the warmest welcome. Signs of discontent from Washington in response to its main geopolitical opponent’s statement on CPTPP membership suggest that such a prospect cannot be ruled out. Although if it is an external organization, then why, it is asked, worry about what is happening there now.

But there is undoubtedly cause for concern, and that stems from the real possibility that the United States will find itself in a position of strategic isolation in the region. The first serious sign of this was the signing of the agreement on the establishment of the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership on November 15, 2020. With this, many years of negotiations on the creation of the world’s largest free trade area. were successfully concluded, with the participation of 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and in which Beijing played a leading role.

Thus, China appears at the center of the global integration process, the main components of which are its own Belt and Road Initiative, as well as participation in RCEP and now CPTPP.

Recently Washington has tried to oppose this global trend. But what is known as the “Cornish Consensus”, which President Joe Biden attempted to form in June during a week-long tour of Europe, has shown no sign of life so far. Judging by the growing turmoil in the “western world”, we should not continue to expect such signs to appear.

The only adequate response of the United States to the trend towards the formation of a world trade and economic space, centered on the Indo-Pacific, would be to incorporate itself as the principal world economic power (for now), after having given up on his quest for the meaningless specter of “world leadership.” The strategy of incorporation could be based on the original thesis of the “neo-isolationists”, according to which the United States interests the rest of the world not because of the strike groups of the aircraft carriers, but for its financial might, economic and technological. , and the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes this friendly nation.

This thesis would in no way contradict the participation of all the major world powers in the same trade and economic alliances such as the CPTPP.

In doing so, the question of which cruise missiles are the most hypersonic will lose its relevance. At any time the prophecy of forging swords into plowshares will come true, when the lions graze in the grass with the sheep.

New Eastern Outlook, September 28. Vladimir Terehov is an expert on Asia-Pacific issues.

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