BEIJING--Washington plans to keep Beijing's rise in check by pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade initiative, and Japan's decision to take part in the TPP negotiations is in line with U.S. objectives, a Chinese expert said.
"The United States is trying to reap economic benefits from Asia's growth, strengthen relations with Japan and other Asian countries and warn against China's rise in the region," Li Xiangyang, director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told The Asahi Shimbun. "In the immediate future, the TPP's significance will be in politically keeping China in check."
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How do you see Japan's decision to take part in the TPP negotiations?
A: It is natural for Japan to try to solve the problem of agriculture, long an obstacle to its trade negotiations, and seek a larger market to break away from years of low economic growth. At the same time, Japan must be trying to reinforce its alliance with the United States, which has been leading the TPP negotiations. I think Japan's decision marks an important change in its Asia strategy.
The decision is also in accordance with U.S. objectives. The United States is trying to reap economic benefits from Asia's growth, strengthen relations with Japan and other Asian countries and warn against China's rise in the region. That explains why U.S. President Barack Obama is traveling to Indonesia to attend (the East Asia Summit) for the first time.
It will take a long time before the TPP starts functioning economically, given Japan's agricultural sector and other problems. The United States and China complement each other in some aspects, and an all-out battle will not break out in economic and foreign policy. In the immediate future, the TPP's significance will be in politically keeping China in check.
Q: The Chinese government said it will study the TPP if it receives an invitation.
A: It is a diplomatic comment. China will not make negative statements to any trade agreement as long as it supports the free trade regime. But I don't think China will participate in the TPP in the near future. China will not be able to join the TPP under current conditions because there are many obstacles other than tariff levels, such as environmental protection, labor unions and state-owned enterprises.
Q: Will Japan's decision to take part in the TPP negotiations affect a Chinese-led regional economic integration centered on ASEAN plus China, South Korea and Japan?
A: Regional cooperation frameworks that have been pursued to date could stall or even go backward. Watching Japan's move, South Korea, which competes with Japan in many markets, will seriously consider participating in the TPP. Thailand and other countries could also move, in addition to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, which are already taking part in the negotiations.
Any regional agreement has a degree of exclusivity, and countries want to join if they have only small domestic markets. Many countries also want to maintain balance in terms of security between the United States and China.
Q: Will China's trade strategy change?
A: China is expected to accelerate concluding bilateral free trade agreements with South Korea, Australia and some European countries. It will also try to further develop its domestic market.
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