FMT LETTER: From Amir Ali, via e-mail
A closer look by Jagdish N Bhagwati, Senior Fellow for International Economics at the Columbia University indicates that the TPP is a political tool against China’s new aggressiveness, built in a spirit of confrontation and containment, not of cooperation.
It appears that the whole idea of the TPP was born out of US contempt for the Chinese economic rise in Asia and in the world. Hence to stem the rise of the most populated nation on earth, the Americans want the entire Asian block to join them in ‘killing’ China economically.
The pity is that the US is dragging the nations in the Southeast Asian region – grouped under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – into the grouping to directly oppose China and this without calculating the dire consequences for these nations.
Notwithstanding the possibly that the Asean stand to lose out in their trade deals with Beijing if it were to be an economic obstacle to China, the grouping risk being targeted by the Chinese response to the TPP.
According to Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, the TPP is also here to help America reap huge profits at the expense of member states. There are doubts that the USA are really pursuing the goal of economic cooperation in Asia Pacific at all.
As a matter of fact, the TPP may end up to be yet another one sided free trade agreement rather called a ‘partnership’ in order to dilute the true intentions of the Americans. Under the banner of a ‘partnership’ with America, the Asean and Asian states are being duped into believing that the US is offering a helping hand thus invoking a fake aura of cooperation.
With the hidden agendas behind the TPP – that of countering China and the faking of cooperation with member TPP states – the US look set to play a divisive role within the Asean grouping. It has already been evident that the US is pressing smaller, weaker nations within the Asean to ‘battle’ China with disputes on territorial issues.
Hilary Clinton’s appearance at the Cambodia Asean meeting two months ago was clear indication of the divisive role by the US when she forced the Philippines to create havoc at the end of the ‘Foreign Affairs’ ministerial summit.
Manilla had pressed the Asean to include a touchy issue over a rocky shoal disputed by China and the Philippines into the ‘final declaration’ of the summit which was openly opposed by Cambodia. It was also opposed ‘secretly’ by other member states of the Asean but they did not dare express themselves, fearing America’s backlash against them.
Henceforth, the very presence of the US at an Asean meeting that was supposed to be a stepping stone to resolve regional conflicts peacefully ended in a division – the first in its history – among the member states.
Now, dangling the alluring TPP in the face of the Asean member states, the US is bound to use the ‘membership’ of the Asean states that has joined to raise the jealousy of those states that are still skeptical of the ‘partnership’.
Vietnam and Singapore has been roped in with the probable assurance that the TPP will be a partnership between the US and the smaller nations and it will benefit the smaller states in particular with US massive investments and cooperation.
But then came Canada, Japan and talks of Australia possibly joining in thus turning the TPP into a one sided affair. With Canada and Japan in the TPP, the Americans must have said, the scope of cooperation and growth for the smaller nations were wider than ever before.
But then, does these small states not already have their own regional body where they are being promised heaven and earth with economic giants? The Asean has grown into a major trade organisation in which the member states enjoys direct bilateral and multi-lateral deals with Japan, India, China, Russia and the US.
And yet, despite the Asean’s flexibility, the nation states are still struggling with ‘one-sided’ trade deals with the US for example. The Asean nations have never benefited from ‘technology’ transfer with the Japan or the US while they have been made to be fearful of direct and open deals with Russia and China, for example.
The fear was surely born from America’s warnings that the China and Russia’s growth in Asia would be nefarious to the Asean member states. The Asean has thus contracted the US and Japan as the nations that will ‘economically’ support them to prevent the giants of Asia from swallowing them. With these barriers now laid, the Americans are now pressing harder than ever to get more Asean member states to join the TPP.
So far the TPP members are as follows: Brunei, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand (original signatory members) in June 2005. The US is said to be ‘negotiating’ its entry in the TPP but it is already the leading member, unofficially speaking. Malaysia, Peru, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Australia, South Korea are the latest states that showed interest or are currently negotiating to become members of the TPP.
Nevertheless, the US has already proven in the past that it will divide and rule wherever it sets its sight as had happened before in South America. Professor Jagdish Baghwati wrote:
American regionalism closer to home shows the US now trying to promote the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). But its preferred template was to expand the North America Free Trade Agreement (Canada, Mexico, and the US) to the Andean countries and include huge doses of non-trade-related issues, which they swallowed.
This was not acceptable to Brazil, the leading force behind the FTAA, which focuses exclusively on trade issues. Brazil’s former President Luiz Lula Inácio da Silva, one of the world’s great trade-union leaders, rejected the inclusion of labor standards in trade treaties and institutions. The result of US efforts in South America, therefore, has been to fragment the region into two blocs, and the same is likely to happen in Asia.
Ever since the US realised that it had chosen the wrong region to be regional with, it has been trying to win a seat at the Asian table. The US finally got it with the TPP, simply because China had become aggressive in asserting its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the South China Sea, and vis-à-vis India and Japan.
The warning signs are already there. It is up to the Asean member states to be weary of the chicken that has not yet laid its eggs!