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China Pushes For Greater Economic Power As TPP Is About To Be All But Buried

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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President Barack Obama’s legacy trade deal likely won’t survive, which is emboldening China.

“It’s certainly not going to be brought up this year,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-member free trade deal which has drawn criticisms from the right and the left in U.S. politics

McConnell said that decisions on the TPP would be left up to President-elect Donald Trump and his administration. On the campaign trail, Trump admonished the agreement as a “disaster” and a “rape of our country.”

The TPP will likely be the “first casualty” of Trump’s presidency, explained Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now affiliated with the China Institute of International Studies.

Seeing opportunity as the TPP, which excludes China, faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles, China is preparing to promote its alternatives.

China reportedly intends to advance the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting scheduled for Nov. 19-20.

“Trade and investment protectionism is rearing its head, and Asia-Pacific faces insufficient momentum for internal growth, and difficulties in advancing reforms,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said during a press conference. “China believes we should set a new and very practical working plan, to positively respond to the expectations of industry, and sustain momentum and establish a free trade area in Asia-Pacific at an early date.”

“China is always positively advancing work on its own regional free-trade strategy. We, indeed, are continuously and positively advancing RCEP negotiations,” China’s deputy international trade representative Zhang Xiangchen explained during the briefing.

China is likely to take control of regional free trade negotiations for the Asia-Pacific region if Obama’s TPP falls through. Such an outcome is likely to significantly boost China’s economic power in the region.

The FTAAP and RCEP may not be the only Chinese-led economic projects that gain momentum as Trump prepares to take office.

Trump’s national security adviser James Woolsey reportedly called the Obama administration’s opposition to China’s Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) a “strategic mistake” in a letter to the South China Morning Post. He also indicated that the incoming Trump administration may take a “much warmer” approach to the massive New Silk Road project, which involves building a land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and focuses on the development of a transcontinental trade network with China at its heart.

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