Source: Global Times Published: 2018-4-14
The competitive mentality of the US and its pursuit of global dominance over China has partly driven the US President Donald Trump to reconsider joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral trade pact he once called a "disaster" and a "rape" of the American people, Chinese analysts said Friday.
Trump told Republican senators that he has asked US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to re-open negotiations on the TPP, Reuters reported Friday.
The US entered TPP negotiations in 2008 under the Barack Obama administration and had signed the trade agreement with 11 other countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and Australia.
After Trump pulled the US out of the agreement, 11 countries went on to sign the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in March.
The shift shows Trump is attempting to return to a multilateral trade framework after realizing his strategy of bilateral trade agreements that favor US interests is not working well with other countries, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University`s Institute of International Relations, told the Global Times on Friday.
The US needs allies to help it gain an upper hand on China amid ongoing trade frictions between the two countries. It also needs allies to form multilateral pressure on China in the Asia-Pacific region and the world, Li added.
The media in the US has dubbed the move as one of Trump`s most "unexpected" policy shifts, considering his previous derogatory remarks on the deal and the fact that he pulled the US out of the agreement on his third day in office.
"His comments were so unexpected that White House officials, lawmakers, business groups and others weren`t sure whether Trump had made a calculated overture or if it was another whimsical idea that he would cool on soon," read a report from the Washington Post on Friday.
Surprise was also expressed by US allies, many of which supported the move.
"If it`s true, I would welcome it," Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Reuters reported.
Aso also suggested that Trump`s shift should be approached with caution. Trump "is a person who could change temperamentally, so he may say something different the next day," Aso said.
Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, believes the shift is not surprising as Trump has realized the time is right to get the US back into the deal.
Trump has never opposed multilateral trade itself, but only wants multilateral agreements that benefit the US the most, Wang told the Global Times on Friday.
"Meanwhile, the US will never give up its world leadership, which is deemed to have been challenged by China," said Wang. Rejoining the deal could help the US regain leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and enhance its global influence, he said.
A deal of uncertainty
It will likely take years before the US signs the deal as the Trump administration will insist on concessions that the other 11 countries are not likely to agree with, said Li.
In his Twitter post on Thursday, Trump said the US would only join the TPP if the deal were "substantially better" than the deal offered to his predecessor Barack Obama.
However, the 11 participating countries share the thinking that "it would be extremely difficult to take out part of the TPP and renegotiate or change it," Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan`s minister in charge of the TPP, said after a Cabinet meeting, Japan`s Kyodo News Agency reported.
Marathon negotiations are expected between the US and other countries and they will be particularly tricky and challenging, Li added.
The US` return to the TPP agreement, which was designed to counter China, will complicate the current pattern of free trade in Asia-Pacific region, while how much the region would benefit from the US rejoining, considering its protectionism and American first strategy, remains uncertain, experts noted.
This is not the first time Trump said he would reconsider joining the deal.
"I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal. The deal was terrible," Trump said in an interview with US-based CNBC television on the sideline of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.
No subsequent measures or remarks regarding the TPP were made Trump since then.
Wang Yiwei is senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.