Gilani on Trump’s Trans Pacific Partnership

Iftikhar Gilani,  23 November 2016, courtesy of DNA

Compared to the previous UPA government’s preference to steer clear of the US-China rivalry, Prime Minister Modi’s tenure so far has been responsive towards US proposals for cooperation in the defence sector. US President-elect Donald Trump’s policy outline to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) within his first 100 days in the Oval Office has sounded alarm bells in India. The policy means the death knell for outgoing President Barack Obama’s strategic outline of a “pivot” to rebalance Asia, in which India and Japan would be the two anchors. Though an economic alliance, the TTP was meant to counter China’s rise through enhanced military, political and economic cooperation with regional allies.donald-trump_3

Compared to the previous UPA government’s preference to steer clear of the US-China rivalry, Prime Minister Modi’s tenure so far has been responsive towards US proposals for cooperation in the defence sector. Soon after taking over, the PM has pushed for active partnership with the US ensuring Obama’s strategic outline of the pivot was very much on the cards.
Professor Harsh V Pant, author of the book ‘The US Pivot and Indian Foreign Policy: Asia’s Evolving Balance of Power’, said there was a convergence of interests in India’s Act East policy and the US pivot to Asia.
Former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said the scrapping of TPP would lead to a more assertive China. “Do we have a dog in this fight? We were never part of TPP. Perhaps the way forward for the region is to intensify efforts towards a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Watch the Asia-Pacific space for an even more assertive China.” The RCEP includes 10 members of the Southeast Asian grouping ASEAN plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Notably, it excludes the US.
Rao’s remarks struck a chord. Commenting on the China factor, senior analyst Ambassador P Stobden said that China had already made a significant move to counter the American ‘Asia Pivot’ strategy. “When President Xi visited Southeast Asia in October, he outlined a maritime Silk Road plan to expand sea-lane connectivity. Xi also scored many strategic points during the East Asia Summit where President Obama failed to turn up due to domestic reasons,” he said.
The Ambassador also added that India’s strategic community had failed to highlight the point that China had long ‘Pivoted West’ by seeking out backdoor territorial advantages since the Soviet collapse.
“The Chinese have moved beyond the former-Soviet space to enter Europe, Africa, West Asia, Latin America, and even in South Asia. Remarkably, Beijing has found development partners in all these continents without pursuing containment strategy. Even in the maritime domain,” he said.
Earlier, the US President-elect said the TPP, signed in 2015 between a dozen countries that comprise 40 per cent of the global economy, was “a potential disaster” for his country. He said his administration would instead “negotiate fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry onto American shores”.
Trump’s remarks come as a disappointment for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who last week became the first foreign leader to sit down with the President-elect during a 90-minute meeting in New York City. Just hours before Trump’s YouTube clip, Abe had warned him that TPP would be “meaningless” without the US’ participation.
The TTP is a 12-nation trade arrangement which came up after seven years of negotiations aiming to liberalise the flow of goods amongst the Pacific Rim countries and also to counter China’s rise in the region. It was seen as a signature achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency, cutting tariffs on thousands of items and attempt to unify copyright laws across its members.
But with Trump seeking to revoke it, the balance of power could drastically shift in Asia, which according to experts may also mean a review of Act East policy.
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