Asian Powers Comment on U.S. Plans for Asia-Pacific Economic Integration

The United States is “pivoting” toward Asia. This strategy was formally publicized last month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s essay on “America’s Pacific Century.” This week, President Barack Obama has been visiting Asia to push for a Trans-Pacific trading bloc and stronger military ties with US allies. How are major Asian powers reacting to America’s strategy to “re-engage” the Asia Pacific region? Today’s post  highlights Chinese, Russian and Japanese views on the economic aspects of this strategy.

CHINA
Chinese officials have so far made only brief comments on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), all of which express China’s support for regional economic integration but stressing its preference for existing mechanisms. Assistant Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said any trade mechanism should be “open and inclusive,” while Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said economic integration should proceed in a “step-by-step manner.”

Commentary in the press characterized the TPP as a part of a wider strategy to contain China:

 Academic opinions leaned toward a “wait-and-see” attitude:

  • Wang Yuzhu of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, “Economic regionalism is China’s most pragmatic choice, because the international architecture is changing rapidly. China has to recalibrate its relations with the rest of the world.”
  • According to Lu Jianren, deputy director of the APEC Study Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “How the TPP negotiations will progress is still a matter of great uncertainty. What can be certain is it will be strategically detrimental to the old ASEAN Plus Three coalition, which has long been lagging behind in forming a free-trade zone that can allow a level of economic unity in the region.”

RUSSIA

As Russia gears up to host the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostock, commentary on U.S. re-engagement in Asia was introspective, questioning Russia’s own unique orientation as both a European and Asian state. 

  • On the TPP, President Dmitry Medvedev took a wait-and-see approach, stating, “I don’t really understand what will result from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. When it is really operational and bears fruit, then I would say that this so-called club could become interesting for us.”

JAPAN

At the APEC summit earlier this week, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Japan would partake in the TPP negotiations, generating a flurry of debate and widespread media coverage questioning the role Japan should play in the negotiations, if any.

Those opposed to Japan’s participation in the TPP cited pressing domestic issues that should take precedence: 

Others editorials appeared cautiously optimistic, highlighting the possibility of an increased regional presence for Japan:

  • Arguing that the “linchpin of Japan’s diplomacy is its relationship with the United States,” a commentator in the Asahi Shimbun praised Tokyo’s efforts to enhance its ties with Washington. “From this point of view, the TPP can give Japan diplomatic leverage in dealing with China.” At the same time, the Asahi urged Japan to “serve as an intermediary between the TPP countries and China.

Our next blog post will examine Asian reactions to the geopolitical dimensions of America’s ‘pivot’ toward Asia. 

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About risingpowers
Sigur Center for Asian Studies Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University

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