Asia stole the economic spotlight when the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement was signed in Auckland, New Zealand despite heavy resistance to the free trade deal that will affect 40% of the world’s commerce and nearly a billion people. With US membership still in limbo, India abstaining, China excluded, and Russia absent from TPP as well as China’s Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, TPP has also made Asia a focal point for volatile geopolitical forces. Increasingly dependent on the policies and fortunes of the US, China, India, and Russia, the interests of the many Asian Peoples are at the mercy of these conflicting giants.
This writer disapproves of TPP over its deleveraging nature, the threat it poses to national sovereignty, and the anti-domestic business climate it propagates, but the standards TPP imposes across signature nations clearly offers benefits. The dubious economic benefits of TPP have not, however, been the main selling point. Unfortunately, the political desire to “write the rules” of global trade and balance the influence of China has been the major motive for embracing TPP instead of sound economic policy. TPP could help member states gain economic leverage over China as a country, but Beijing’s economic agenda is more akin to the rebalancing of an investment portfolio than an economic policy.
Politically, Asia is increasingly polarized between regional, emerging global power China and the United States. Although Russia provides Asia, China in particular, with fossil fuels, Russia is not so much a regional power as an influencer capable of undermining regional interests. Economically, India and China compete to service global demand while they offer each other products and resources that cannot be supplied domestically. The US offers intellectual and financial capital as well as a strong consumer base. Just as placing a boulder into stream will redirect the flow of water, TPP will distort economic activity and development across Asia within this broader geopolitical dynamic.
The Chinese People compete within the global economy, but Beijing interacts with the world in the same way a transnational conglomerate, which owns and operates numerous corporations, might. What this means is that Beijing abuses China’s national wealth to secure its global economic power through acquisitions and investments. In other words, China’s plutocratic government benefits from TPP, because it can buy businesses that can. Where the size of China’s national wealth puts all other investors and businesses at a crushing disadvantage, the lack of impartial government oversight leaves China Corp free to promote business and global business partnerships that serve its interests.
Significant acquisitions, such as state-owned China National Chemical’s proposed cash buyout of Syngenta, demonstrate the business nature of Beijing. Beijing may be serving its national interests with these deals, but it is also positioning its self to control entire industries. To boot, President Xi Jinping's “One Belt, One Road” policy, which offers loans and investments to other nations, is a means for China to buy influence into foreign governments and give Chinese firms even greater advantages. Because Beijing is diversifying its investment profile away from its own domestic economic with China’s national wealth, the Communist government is doing so at the expense of the Chinese People.
That said, China Corp’s monopolistic pursuit of global wealth suffers the same hubris as all other attempts to concentrate global wealth and power. Economies exist to serve and balance the interests of people. When the interests of people are not properly addressed by economic mechanisms, markets collapse, which is evident in the collapse of China’s fake stock market. Businesses can buy the water rights in a desert, but people will not willingly die of thirst, because someone owns the water. The enforcement of such claims simply delegitimizes the legal system and fuels conflict. In trying to use economics to subdue people into neglecting their own economic interests, those responsible are simply sowing the seeds of conflict and instability.
In the end, the politics, law, diplomacy, and economics of Asia must serve the interests of the many Asian Peoples. After all, social institutions solely exist, because they solve the problems of society. As issues like climate change and dwindling natural resources fuel greater competition within the world’s most populous region, the failure to properly balance the interests of Asians will generate civil strife and eventual conflict, unless solutions are developed. If TPP simply disenfranchises the Peoples of Asia, it will only create instability as it fails. If Beijing and wealthy influences continue to use their economic influence to serve their interests at the expense of others, catastrophe is assured.
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