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While the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) still exists after the US withdrew its signature, some predicted that the US withdrawal opened the door to China taking the lead with its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). According to an article on ZDNet, back in 2017:

According to Clare, India will be one of the largest economies globally by mid-century, while the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal would also be a good prospect for Australia given the economic power of China.

"I suspect with the Americans retreating away from the TPP, the Chinese may step up now and try and finalise that agreement," Clare added.

Former US Trade Representative Michael Froman warned Trump earlier this month that he risks "abdicating" trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region by refusing to ratify the TPP, as it would create an opportunity for China to step in with its RCEP deal.

According to Wikipedia's timeline on the progress of RCEP's negotiation, the signatories want to sign the deal in November of 2020.

The aforementioned article by ZDNet goes on to quote former trade representative Froman saying (emphasis mine):

"There simply is no way to reconcile a get-tough-on-China policy with withdrawing from TPP," Froman said during a speech to the Washington International Trade Association.

"That would be the biggest gift any US president could give China, one with broad and deep consequences, economic and strategic.

"It would be a strategic miscalculation of enormous proportions.

"Why would we cede our role as a Pacific power? Does anyone really think US interests are better served if China, rather than the US, writes the rules of the road?"

Specifically, I'm interested in the point made about those "rules of the road". There is a suggestion that because RCEP is negotiated by China instead of the United States, that the partnership would be more beneficial to China.

Aside from the difference in membership, I'm wondering what the main differences between TPP and RCEP are in terms of what the free trade agreement covers.

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Question #1

While the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) still exists after the US withdrew its signature, some predicted that the US withdrawal opened the door to China taking the lead with its own Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

TPP was designed to give Asian countries an alternative to being caught up in China's economic orbit, and deal the US a better political hand in the region. The US declined to ratify the Obama era trade agreement due to domestic and partisan disagreements. Domestic concerns centered around the United States existing Free Trade agreements which have been economically of questionable value domestically. While they do increase exports, they increase imports more and also attract American companies overseas where labor rights, environmental protections, and various corporate laws can be more lenient. This was a big chip in the 2016 election. The failure to ratify TPP absolutely opened the door to China, which was excluded from the TPP agreement, in that it diminished what otherwise could have been stronger US economic relationships with some countries which have few alternatives to China.

Quote #1

According to Clare, India will be one of the largest economies globally by mid-century, while the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal would also be a good prospect for Australia given the economic power of China.

This is really an outdated article from 2017. A lot has happened just in the last 10 months. India and China are on the brink of war over their shared border in the Himalayas.

Relations between the Australia and China began to deteriorate in 2018 due to growing concerns of Chinese political influence in various sectors of Australian society including the Government, universities and media as well as China's stance on the South China. The COVID-19 pandemic has created greater issues and tensions between the countries. Australia has

  • April 2020, Called for an International Investigation into the Origins of the Coronavirus.
  • June 2020, Openly opposed the Hong Kong security Law.
  • July 2020, Signed a letter condemning China's mistreatment of the Uyghurs.
  • Oct 6 2020, joined with 39 countries, in a statement at the United Nations to denounce China for its treatment of minorities (stealing their organs!) and for curtailing freedoms in Hong Kong.

April 2020, Editor-in-chief of the Global Times, stated "Australia is always there, making trouble. It is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China's shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off."

Prompting both India and Australia to join with the United States and Japan in forming what appears to be quickly emerging military alliance against China. dubbed the Quad

Question #2

There is a suggestion that because RCEP is negotiated by China instead of the United States, that the partnership would be more beneficial to China.

China was excluded from the TPP, so absolutely any trade agreement China can negotiate would absolutely be more beneficial to China.

Question #3

I'm wondering what the main differences between TPP and RCEP are in terms of what the free trade agreement covers.

Both are political efforts by China and the US to attract countries to their side. China in making their treaty "Regional" excludes the US from participating. The United States likewise had excluded China from the TPP even when China publicly stated it's desire to join. That's the primary difference.. That and that China currently disputes their borders or has other disputes with 12 of the 14 countries which makes up their "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership".

From Comments

@JJJ - the US would also focus on promoting its values, whereas China would mostly be interested in free trade. If you could add something about that, it would be a nice addition.

The point I was trying to make is, we are living through the beginning of geopolitical reordering episode, perhaps the beginning of a second cold war, or a new Pacific focused NATO like military alliance. Where the United States and many other countries (EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, India) have come to believe China is an aggressive expansionist nation. Economic persuasion focused around trade is a tool in the Chinese bag with their Debt Trap diplomacy and their Belt and Road projects, all focused around commerce but often leading to military expansions or exploitation.

Thus China with their centrally planned economy is not about "free trade". They are about selling products oversees while protecting their domestic markets.

Just as recently as last year Western Powers dismissed China's protectionism believing China would eventually reform their economy and become a force for the geo-political order and international laws which helped them transform their economy. No longer. Today China has claimed "ancient territorial rights" over the territory of 18 countries. Their fishing fleets plunder UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Galapagos, as wells a the exclusive economic zones around many of their neighbors. All told China has "disputes" with 18 of her neighbors while only sharing an internationally recognized border with 14 countries.

As for the United States, I think the primary motivation for TPP was always to offer Pacific nations an alternative to China's economic orbit.

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