Is RCEP another Chinese trap?

China has not concealed its ambition to become the global superpower by dominating the world politically, economically, and militarily

N S Venkataraman Nov 26, 2020
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China has not concealed its ambition to become the global superpower by dominating the world politically, economically, and militarily. To achieve its ambition, China believes that any means, ethical or unethical, would be appropriate.

It further thinks that world opinion means nothing and can even be ignored with contempt, so long as it remains economically and militarily strong.

In the past, China has aggressively occupied Tibet and in the process massacred thousands of innocent Tibetans. It is laying claims to the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands, with least care about the protest from Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and others. It is occupying thousands of km of Indian territory and is claiming more. While it is threatening to invade Taiwan, which may well happen sooner than later, it is suppressing the liberty and freedom of people in Hong Kong with brutal force.

Several countries have objected to China’s aggressive strategies but Beijing is going ahead, as it is convinced that the world opinion matters little.

China very well knows and probably several countries also know that China is vulnerable to trade pressure, as its economy is very largely dependent on exploiting the global market. To check China’s greed and ambition, the US President Donald Trump started a trade war, which impacted China to some extent. But, Trump did not get much support from other countries, including those in Western Europe.

Now, with most countries becoming weak due to the COVID-19 crisis and the US facing humiliating internal conditions due to bitter hate politics between the two political parties and in the process getting its global image severely hurt, China obviously thinks that it is the best time to assert its position and move on with its clever strategies.

With China believing that countries – big or small - can be tempted by the lure of its huge market and knowing very well that no country in the world would challenge China that would make them lose China’s market, Beijing has successfully kicked off RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). Countries that have been earlier accusing China like Australia, Japan, and the Philippines have joined the RCEP with the clear objective of enhancing trade with China.

Only India has refrained from signing the China-backed RCEP displaying the courage of conviction and confidence that shows that it can protect its interests and has alternate option without joining the free trade agreement between the Asia-Pacific nations.

In recent months, we have been repeatedly hearing about Quad where India, Japan, Australia, and the US have formed an alliance, which is widely perceived to be an anti-China alliance.  China and Australian governments have been exchanging bitter statements. Japan even went to the extent of providing special incentives to Japanese companies for withdrawing investments from China. Now, Australia, Japan, and twelve other countries, who have certainly expressed doubts and misgivings about China’s intentions, have joined RCEP.  What one has to make of this?

Obviously, these countries seem to think that economic interests and political interests are different matters. They do not seem to understand that it would be a naïve idea to separate economics and politics in devising the policies for any country.

China has ensured that its interests would be protected even if the trade war with the US would continue by successfully enticing 14 countries to sign RCEP. China would certainly dump its goods on these countries and most of these countries would not be able to get benefits from entering the Chinese market, to the extent that China would gain by ‘invading’ the markets of these countries.

Perhaps, countries like Australia, Japan, South Korea which are all reasonably well developed seem to be thinking that China would not be able to use their countries as dumping ground for its goods and services. But this remains to be seen.

Even a casual observer cannot but get an impression that countries like Japan and Australia have fallen into China’s trap. Certainly, China would not give up its claims on the South China Sea or Senkaku Island, in spite of the 'affected' countries like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines joining RCEP.

They are bound to learn at a great cost soon that by sacrificing political interests for the sake of economic interests is an unwise gamble and short-sighted policy.

With  several weak countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and a few others already falling into China’s trap, Beijing now seems to feel confident that its strategies and approaches have been further vindicated by its clever and successful RCEP strategy.

By joining this RCEP, Japan and Australia, who are part of the Quad, have belittled themselves and have virtually accepted that China is the 'big brother' and in the process, have made the Quad a laughing matter. 

(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. Views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at nsvenkatchennai@gmail.com)

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