TPP’s death knell should help US change its China tack

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Chen Wei­hua Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton and many Chi­nese may have one thing in com­mon. None of them is fond of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship (TPP) trade agree­ment, but for vastly dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

Clin­ton, when sec­re­tary of state, called TPP the “gold stan­dard”, but she op­posed it dur­ing the cam­paign in or­der to win more union vot­ers.

Trump seems more con­sis­tent. He an­nounced on Nov 21 that a top pri­or­ity for his ad­min­is­tra­tion is to with­draw from the 12-na­tion TPP, which he has re­peat­edly called “a po­ten­tial disas­ter for our coun­try”.

For many Chi­nese, the death knell sounded by Trump is wel­come news be­cause they fi­nally don’t have to lis­ten to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama say: “The United States, not coun­tries like China, should write trade rules.”

Such words sound not only hu­mil­i­at­ing to many Chi­nese, but also ridicu­lous and hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

Why on earth would any­one think China, with a fifth of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, should not be rep­re­sented in writ­ing global trade rules or any global rules? For Obama to think like that is akin to wish­ing that all the red states in the US should be banned from vot­ing in the Nov 8 elec­tion.

Ex­clud­ing China from mak­ing global rules and norms re­veals a zero-sum and anti-demo­cratic mind­set, not to men­tion that China, rather than the US, is now the world’s largest trad­ing na­tion.

The fact that Obama has con­stantly used TPP as a US for­eign pol­icy tool in its re­bal­ance-to-Asia strat­egy al­tered the true mean­ing of the free trade agree­ment. The TPP be­fore the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was never meant to be a geopo­lit­i­cal game.

TPP’s eco­nomic ben­e­fits are con­tro­ver­sial to say the least. Some US econ­o­mists who stud­ied the doc­u­ments care­fully con­cluded that the eco­nomic ben­e­fits to the US are quite lim­ited, in con­trast to the praise heaped on it by US of­fi­cials in lob­by­ing Congress and the US public in the past year.

Some multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions may be the win­ners from TPP, but many US work­ers and com­mu­ni­ties vul­ner­a­ble to free trade agree­ments are likely to suf­fer. Over the years, the US govern­ment has done a poor job to help them, and Obama has not suc­cess­fully as­sured them this time.

The op­po­si­tion to TPP among Amer­i­cans is so strong that at a rally on Nov 17 by Ver­mont Sen­a­tor Bernie San­ders and his sup­port­ers near Capi­tol Hill, many held anti-TPP plaques and claimed that it was San­ders’ move­ment that brought an end to TPP.

In the past week, some in the US have made a last-ditch ef­fort for TPP by ar­gu­ing that the death of the treaty will give China an op­por­tu­nity to ad­vance its in­flu­ence, and more specif­i­cally the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship (RCEP), re­flect­ing the same zero-sum ap­proach Obama had in selling TPP.

At the 27th China-US Joint Com­mis­sion on Com­merce and Trade in Wash­ing­ton last week, Vice-Premier Wang Yang, US Com­merce Sec­re­tary Penny Pritzker, US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man and Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack and other of­fi­cials all talked about the rapid growth of bi­lat­eral trade and in­vest­ment re­la­tions and more im­por­tantly, the huge po­ten­tial ahead.

With such a prospect, there is no rea­son for China and the US not to pur­sue a win-win game that will ben­e­fit their peoples, but in­stead try to ex­clude the other in push­ing for­ward their own mul­ti­lat­eral trade deal as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­hib­ited in TPP.

Peo­ple close to Trump, such as for­mer CIA di­rec­tor James Woolsey Jr, have in­di­cated that the next US ad­min­is­tra­tion might join the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB) and even the One Belt One Road ini­tia­tive.

Though noth­ing is sure, this is an en­cour­ag­ing sig­nal, sug­gest­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may pur­sue more win-win co­op­er­a­tion with China in­stead of politi­ciz­ing a trade agree­ment, a re­gional in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment bank and ef­forts to build con­nec­tiv­ity when­ever they are ini­ti­ated by China.

In­deed, ditch­ing the ze­ro­sum men­tal­ity and pur­su­ing win-win co­op­er­a­tion is the only right choice for both China and the US.

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