FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
The Trumping of Asia
Posted:Jan 2, 2018
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Kevin Rudd
 
In the last year, the single most pointless wound inflicted by the US on Asia, not to mention itself, was its abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In one fell swoop, the once great free-trading nation that was the United States of America died, leaving the global trading system utterly rudderless.
 
With America's spurning of the TPP, not only was progress toward further trade liberalisation reversed; the global free-trade system itself, including its common rules and arbitration mechanisms for resolving disputes, came into question.
 
You don't have to be a Marxist to understand that economics has a profound and probably even decisive impact on politics, both national and international. And, indeed, the geopolitical and geo-economic implications of Trump's move are just beginning to be felt across the Pacific.
 
With China's economic footprint across the Asia-Pacific region already large, countries in the region are now increasingly concluding that the US is consigning itself to growing economic irrelevance in Asia. US financial institutions will, of course, remain important, as will Silicon Valley, as a source of extraordinary innovation. But the pattern of trade, the direction of investment, and, increasingly, the nature of intra-regional capital flows, are painting a vastly different picture for the future than the one that has dominated post-war Asia.
 
The abandonment of the TPP—a key campaign promise that Donald Trump fulfilled almost immediately upon taking office—reflects the collective failure on the part of the American political class in the 2016 presidential election. Continuing that failure, America's leadership has not followed up on the decision with much of anything.
 
At home, the Trump administration has engaged in much chest-thumping about “America First.” Abroad, it has begun to tout an ill-defined concept of “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” which displays all the hallmarks of a slogan in search of substance. What economic reality will hang beneath this shingle, we know not. If the idea is a series of individual bilateral free-trade agreements, any seasoned observer of US trade diplomacy can tell you that we are looking at a decade's worth of negotiations that, ultimately, will probably yield very little.
 
For their part, Asia-Pacific countries have begun to look to two unlikely sources for leadership on trade liberalisation: Japan and China.
 
Japan has sought to pull the TPP's remains out of the ashes by creating the TPP 11, which includes all of the original negotiating states, except the US, which would be permitted to rejoin later. The core tenets of this agreement were signed, despite reservations from Canada, at the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam (a meeting that Trump himself also attended), highlighting Asia-Pacific countries' view that they are no longer chained to US leadership. The so-called Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership represents a significant advance in terms of trade and investment liberalisation across the 11 signatory countries. As for the US, we can only hope that a future administration, whether Republican or Democrat, will see its way clear to acceding to an agreement that Japanese economic leadership has sought to keep alive. But, given the evidence, that may be farfetched.
 
The other surprising source of trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region is China. Some years ago, the country began championing a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). While this will not represent a high-ambition arrangement, it will represent some advancement from the status quo. It embraces 16 states, including China, India, Japan, and South Korea, but excludes the US.
 
India, the third-largest economy in Asia, could also have a critical role to play in furthering pan-regional trade liberalisation. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has yet to direct its political capital toward becoming a member of APEC, let alone advance a trade-liberalisation agenda of its own. This needs to change, but the forces of mercantilism are alive and well in Delhi.
 
The net result of these developments, with the US having eschewed both the TPP and RCEP, has been a further diminution of American power in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, the US is increasingly emerging as an incomplete superpower. It remains a formidable military actor, with unique power projection capabilities that extend far beyond its aircraft carrier battle groups to include an array of other capabilities that are as yet unmatched by other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But its relevance to the region's future—in terms of employment, trade, and investment growth, as well as sustainable development—is declining fast.
 
Some in Washington, DC, seem to think that the US can sustain this pattern for decades to come. But many of us are sceptical. Unless and until the US chooses comprehensive economic re-engagement with the region, its significance to the overall future of Asia, the world's most economically dynamic region, will continue to fade.
 
Precisely how other regional powers—China, Japan, India, and South Korea (Asia's four leading economies)—will respond to this decline remains to be seen. But the truth confronting those who observe the region closely is that Southeast Asia has already begun to move meaningfully toward China's strategic orbit.
 
Ultimately, the policies of an administration committed to putting America first are likely, in Asia at least, to result in America being put last.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Thailand will be the coordinating country for India within ASEAN from July. In an exclusive interview with INDIA REVIEW & ANALYSIS, the fortnightly journal of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS),  Thailand’s Ambassador to India, Chutintorn Gongsakdi, gave a comprehensive view of bilateral relations and
 
read-more
The struggle for autonomy has been going on within the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) from their inception, writes P.D. Rai
 
read-more
As India and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc culminate the commemoration of 25 years of their dialogue partnership with a summit in New Delhi January 25 that all the leaders will attend, India is laying out the crimson carpet to ensure that the first ever Republic Day celebrations at which 10 ASEAN leaders will be Chief Guests, jointly, is a
 
read-more
The United Nations Security Council concluded a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan in a show of support for the war-torn nation where it denounced the activities of terrorists there, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced Monday.
 
read-more
While appreciating the remarkable turnaround by Indian exports during November 2017, Anil Khaitan, President, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that India has seen a major breakthrough in its exports to China during last few months whereas the surge in imports for Chinese products in Indian market is on deceleration.
 
read-more
“We have a very solid commitment to climate action,” he said. “We cannot be defeated by climate change and we are not yet winning this battle” and the biggest victims of climate change are the developing countries that are members of the Group of 77 (G77).
 
read-more
In a bid to promote trilateral innovation and business opportunities between the US, India, and Israel, Israel-India Technology Group has launched a trilateral fund of $50 million. "We ar...
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: Salafi-Jihadism -The History of an Idea; Author: Shiraz Maher; Publisher: Penguin Random House UK: Pages: 292; Price: Rs 499

 
Column-image

A Review of Anatomy of Failure by Harlan K. Ullman (Naval Institute Press, 242 pages)

 
Column-image

Title: The Beckoning Isle; Author: Abhay Narayan Sapru; Publisher: Wisdom Tree; Pages: 157; Price: Rs 245

 
Column-image

Title: India Now And In Transition; Editor: Atul Thakur ; Publisher: Niyogi Books: Pages: 448; Price: Rs 599

 
Column-image

Title: The Power Paradox; Author: Dacher Keltner; Publisher: Penguin Random House UK: Pages: 208; Price: Rs 499