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The new US allies in post-TPP world

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During his campaign, Trump frequently criticized Obama’s Asia policy, which was based on defending key regional allies such as Japan and South Korea. The most memorable part of Obama’s diplomatic effort in East Asia has been America’s “Pivot to Asia”, also described more recently as a rebalancing of its involvement in the Asia-Pacific region. Pivot to East Asia was a regional strategy, whose key areas of actions were: “strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening the working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; expanding trade and investment; forging a broad-based military presence; and advancing democracy and human rights.” However there has been strong perception from China that all of these are part of US’ China containment policy. Supporters of this theory claim that the United States needs a weak, divided China to continue its hegemony in Asia. This is accomplished, the theory claims, by the United States establishing military, economic, and diplomatic ties with countries adjacent to China’s borders.

This is demonstrated by the fact that one of the main dispute between United States and China has concerned the South China Sea, where US military ships’ passage through China’s claimed exclusive economic zone was a key source of tension. As its military and economic power grew, China wanted to control more of its surrounding waters to guarantee its security needs, while the US felt it was in its national interests to minimize countries’ maritime claims and preserve its freedom to conduct military activities in the region.

Trump has sought to reassure both Tokyo and Seoul that the US would maintain a strong defensive posture in the Asia-Pacific region to protect its security and trade allies. But, the first meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Thursday realized few concrete results. Abe has already pointed out that, in case of failure of the TPP, the problem of the alternative options would be set in Japan and would bring to the RCEP, the pan-Asian agreement in negotiation, which excludes the Usa and it has China as principal economy. So in other words, if Washington withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an increase in economic influence for the Chinese region will be inevitable. At a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday, Abe said the TPP would be “meaningless” without the US and could not be renegotiated. Besides, Trump’s advisers said Trump would double down on Washington’s commitment to rebuilding the US military, including adding some 80 warships to the US Navy to counter China’s rapidly expanding military capabilities, and urging Japan and South Korea to share the cost of sustaining a US presence in the region. They suggested that the new president would follow Ronald Reagan’s hawkish foreign policy doctrine of peace through strength, which has been endorsed by every Republican presidential nominee since the 1980s.

The policy initiatives of Clinton would have led to continue with pivoting to Asia and the TPP, encircling China politically and militarily, and isolating China economically. But according to Chinese advisers, Trump could be an opportunity towards more boosting economic development to unite American society, unlike democratic presidents who wanted Washington to show strength through interference in other nations. For these reasons, China is likely to face less political and military pressure in the Asia-Pacific under Trump because his administration would be less keen to interfere in global ­affairs.

On Monday, Trump revealed his policy plans for his first 100 days in office and vowing to issue a note of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership “from day one”. Instead he said he would “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back”. The TPP intentionally excluded China; it was a central part of outgoing President Barack Obama’s push to boost US influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Through creating the world’s biggest free-trade zone with 11 partner nations, a strategic alliance would be put in place on China’s doorstep with the aim of countering its rise. The day after this statement, the Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang said that US policies towards China may be uncertain, but he is optimistic about American choices to take advantage of market opportunities in China’s economy. So clearly there are elements of rivalry, challenges, United States and China have different political systems and political values that are really the opposite, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot find ways to work together when the world is faced with very pressing problem.

 

By Roberta Ciampo

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