Analysis. Donald Trump said this week he would withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is mixed news for China that changes the Asian chessboard.

With TPP in question, Beijing pumps alternatives

Singapore and even Vietnam have called on China to provide a solution for the eventual failure of the TPP. The Asian balance is being completely redefined and the new American president is likely to give it the final shove, by redesigning a new world from the Pacific shore.

Even though China has been invested for a long time in the so-called “charm offensive,” that is, proving to be reliable and able to present itself as a peaceful power to its Asian neighbors, Beijing by itself would never have gotten a tangible result, without the help sent Tuesday by the United States, where President-elect Donald Trump has substantially undermined the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), an agreement of 12 countries of the “Pacific Rim,” which, not surprisingly, excluded China.

The new U.S. president has announced his intention not to continue with this initiative, which at this point remains as a reminder of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” strategy. Now let’s see what can happen and how the Asian chessboard will be rearranged, in the face of the possibility of the failure of the agreement.

In recent days, Japan, in the words of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has expressed its skepticism about the possibility of a reversal. In fact, Tokyo is the most stable U.S. ally in an area where other countries have already shown their potential willingness to change “protector.” In theory, the TPP involves 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. Along with Japan, Vietnam is certainly one of the less satisfied countries with this change in the American policy. But the fact that Hanoi is giving a green light to a Chinese alternative, indicates how the area’s thermometer is marking a raging boil.

The truth is — as China is already communicating — that Trump’s decision shows primarily the unreliability of the United States; a figure capable of moving several balances in the Asian world, where pragmatism reigns.

China itself, though, seems rather indecisive on the considerations to be made. In recent days, Xi Jinping at the APEC meeting recalled the importance of cooperation between China and the United States, and invited Trump not to fall into the trap of protectionism. Beijing needs open markets to further its evolution in innovation and to continue moving forward in that race for high standards, where the U.S.’s massive presence served as a stimulus.

This was being discussed this week in Beijing: The TPP was a gag on the economic potential of China, the only exception, but it was an example of quality standards, in terms of the labor market and environmental protection.

Within the free trade agreement lurked the typical neoliberal vision of strict control, not only on labor regulation but also environmental. Any eventual replacement of the TPP, like the regional agreement already discussed, would not have these “limits.” Not just because China wants any new scheme to happen under Chinese leadership: A new regional agreement would, perhaps, have to accelerate certain internal reforms that right now seem blocked by the power dynamics of the communist establishment.

It is no coincidence that the Global Times, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, warns: “For China, as long as Trump will behave in a practical and realistic way, negotiations can continue with confidence. Bargaining is inevitable, but all the economic and trade agreements between the two countries can only be managed on the basis of the maximization of the common interests of both. ‘America First’ may not include the interests of others. If so, it will be difficult for the U.S. to reach agreements with other countries.”

Meanwhile, Beijing is trying to take advantage of the situation: On Tuesday, it announced that Asian leaders are conducting negotiations for the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” an agreement among the 10 countries that China has always presented as a genuine alternative to the TTP, in hoping to “achieve quickly the outcome of the negotiations.”

In this sense, Beijing has already found the shores of the other Asian countries. The Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who had strongly supported the TPP, is now calling for China to become a promoter of new initiatives. And so did Vietnam and Malaysia, both members of the TPP.

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