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Donald Trump

The onus is on Trump to make the correct pivot to Asia

Campaign rhetoric aside, cooperation with China is key to securing trade deals that would benefit all parties in a fast-growing region

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:22am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:22am

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric abounded with inconsistencies, leaving confusion as to what his presidency will mean. The direction will become clear as he unveils his cabinet and policies are laid out. But there can be greater certainty about the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, which the US president-elect repeatedly voiced opposition to. With its demise will come an opportunity for China and the US to take a fresh look at their trading partnership.

The TPP intentionally excluded China; it was a central part of outgoing President Barack Obama’s push to boost US influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Through creating the world’s biggest free-trade zone with 11 partner nations, a strategic alliance would be put in place on China’s doorstep with the aim of countering its rise. Washington pressured other countries not to join Beijing’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and has similarly dismissed plans for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a rival to the TPP that would include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ 10 members and the six states with which the bloc has free-trade agreements – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

Trump on Asia: what he’s said and where he stands

During campaigning, Trump accused China of taking American jobs, being a currency manipulator and coming up with the idea of climate change to harm US companies. He threatened to impose tariffs of 45 per cent on Chinese imports. But all that was forgotten on Monday during his first phone conversation with President Xi Jinping (習近平), in which he pledged the nations would have “one of the strongest relationships”. Xi amplified that sentiment, stressing the importance of Sino-US ties and that “cooperation is the only correct choice” for the two sides.

Ensuring that lawmakers reject the TPP is in keeping with that view. While it would seem to make sense for Japan, Singapore and others counting on the perceived benefits it would bring their lacklustre economies, the exclusion of interest groups during negotiations and the impact it will have on jobs and industries in less-developed countries makes for an unbalanced deal. Fortunately, Obama’s lame-duck administration and the lack of appetite in Congress for a vote make it all but dead. Trump’s taking office on January 20 should ensure its demise.

Being part of the Asian-led inclusive free-trade plans and the AIIB would set the US on a positive course. Working with China and the region will create conditions that will benefit all sides.