China can strengthen Asia relations after TPP

By Ume Farwa Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/11 20:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



America's foreign policy influence is decreasing. The reason behind this declining regional influence is structural, but it is also that US interests are changing. Its policies, with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump, are becoming over trenched. It is interesting to know what is shaping these emerging trends in US policies.

In his insightful book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance identifies some of the forces behind Trump's victory, including the alienation and anger of America's white working class. This cohort believes its income has been stagnating, cities crumbling and dreams vanishing. This important chunk of the American population is in crisis. It thinks the country has been doing poorly on the domestic front because it has been abandoning its people for some "good-for-nothing" issues overseas.

This cultural crisis in the US is the driving force behind its emerging policies, which is likely to put it in danger of losing the Asia-pacific region. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September, Shinzo Abe talked to Clinton about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). She was well-articulated but a befuddled Abe remained unconvinced.

Lee Hsein Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, also felt the reflection of this crisis in his discussion with American diplomats. In an interview with Time magazine, Lee said Americans are preoccupied with jobs, upset about globalization, so they say, "How about turning inwards?" Americans feel, at least for now, they don't need the rest of the world anymore, but rather must focus on themselves only.

Lee questioned the US credibility saying, "How can anybody (in the region) believe in you anymore?" America's most important regional allies, Australia, Japan and South Korea, are also worried over this negative development. US credibility is, indeed, at stake in the region. The Philippines President has already parted ways with the US and befriended China. With no TPP in the offing, the US seems to be in a danger of losing the region. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric about treating its allies as America's clients has done much damage to US influence in the region. 

The US has maintained its relationship with the region both on economic and security terms. Interestingly, its economic engagement within the region has been contingent upon its security arrangements. On the other hand, Beijing's engagement has been economy and development oriented. As the US is busy fixing its domestic issues, it leaves a vacuum in the region. 

China has many advantages over the US. The first advantage is its geographic proximity with the countries. To promote regional cooperation, it has facilitated transportation network in the region and turned Guangxi and Yunnan into interfaces with ASEAN countries.

China's infrastructure development projects in the neighboring countries are a means to building a Beijing-led network of regional connectivity. In this regard, China's "One Belt, One Road" Initiative and Yunan Province's strategy of "eight entries and four exits (ba rujing, si chujing)" is a step in the right direction. 

Second, China's economic rise exerts a strong pull on the regional countries, particularly ASEAN countries. From component manufacturing in Malaysia to banking in Singapore and copper mining in Myanmar, it is opening up new avenues for regional cooperation.

Third, being an important source of capital and a manufacturing hub, it has the potential to buoy the economy of the region. Yet it needs to invest more as it is not a major trading partner of ASEAN - it contributed only 7 percent to ASEAN's total FDI inflows in 2014. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) also adds more to the advantages China has over the US. RCEP is region-oriented and China-led initiatives which will build a web of FTAs among its member countries.

The US is short on capability and willpower to sustain its dominance in regional affairs. Outgoing President Barack Obama's pivot to the Asia Pacific has lost its relevance for US policy makers. This gradual slip of the US on regional affairs has created an opportunity for China to further its economic engagement with the regional states.

China is becoming a hub of regional economic affairs. The regional states' dependence on China is increasing as they are bandwagoning rather than balancing against China's economic emergence, despite all the Western "charm offensive" propaganda.

The author is a research fellow in the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and sub-editor of ISSI quarterly journal. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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