GT Voice: New US attempt to push IPEF will just be more empty words
Published: Jul 25, 2022 10:06 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

The US will host a ministerial meeting on Tuesday, bringing together officials representing the 14 member countries that have joined the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), as Washington seeks to expand its engagement with Asia, Reuters reported. The meeting will be hosted by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Since its launch on May 23, observers have begun to criticize the IPEF for lacking specific content and being more symbolic than substantive. On the surface, the IPEF appears to be an economic initiative, yet it is actually driven more by geopolitical consideration rather than economic factors. 

Faced with growing doubts, the US urgently needs to prove the world that the US-led economic framework can offer tangible benefits to participating countries and allow them to benefit from US market. However, this will not be easy. Certainly, one meeting will not effectively address any real issue, not matter how hard US officials seek to hype it.

Topics for discussion at Tuesday's meeting include trade, supply chains, clean energy, infrastructure, taxes and combating corruption, Reuters reported, citing a statement from the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) and US Department of Commerce. 

With a schedule that is too ambitious to include too many topics ranging from trade to infrastructure, the US may find it unrealistic to reach a consensus among the 14 IPEF member countries, because time will be very limited for each member to speak on a single topic. Becoming too ambitious means it is possible that Tuesday's conference may become just a briefing about US diplomatic rhetoric absent specific content and concrete results.

The US is trying to show IPEF members a beautiful picture as the USTR repeatedly stresses that "we share a commitment to a free, open, fair, inclusive, interconnected, resilient, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region that has the potential to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth." However, the USTR may have forgotten to tell the world how to achieve this, therefore the diplomatic rhetoric sounds more like just an empty talk.

The concept of a "free and open Indo-Pacific" has been appearing more often in US diplomatic rhetoric, but many find it sarcastic that there are no market access or tariff reduction provisions in the framework. From the perspective of the other 13 IPEF members, they may want to benefit from bigger market access to the US, but it is clear Washington is unable to provide them with practical benefits. 

Battling an economic predicament at home, it is very difficult for the US to further open its market to Asia-Pacific economies. The US economy faces risks of falling into a mild recession by the end of 2022 or next year as the Federal Reserve raises rates to tame prices. If Washington meets the demands of Asia-Pacific economies on market access and therefore hurts US domestic industry, the Biden administration will face increasing political pressure in the upcoming midterm elections.

On the other hand, from the perspective of some economies in the Asia-Pacific region, it is impossible for them to promote economic and trade cooperation in accordance with the so-called high standards proposed by the US in some areas. For example, the issue of labor standards has seen a lot of discussions recently. Some have pointed out that it is impossible for countries like India to enforce US labor standards.

Yet, if these contradictions are not resolved, it is impossible for the US to push IPEF to move forward. This geopolitical tool designed by the US to divide economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region will end up being nothing but an empty plan. In fact, the US' calculation is to use these empty words to corral regional economies to form an economic cooperation plan that excludes China.

Another fundamental problem of the IPEF hastily flung together by the US is that it violates the laws and trends of economic development. It is impossible for the US to artificially divide economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region for political reasons. There is no country in the IPEF that can replace China. And their manufacturing industry chain and supply chain are all closely linked to China. The US' sinister intention to exclude China and divide Asia-Pacific economic cooperation is bound to fail.