How to get China and Taiwan to get CPTPP admission

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Ambassador Kurt Tong is a former American diplomat. He is a partner at Asia Group.

After China’s Sept. 16 request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Washington faces the supreme irony of passively watching its main strategic rival become the beneficiary of an opening deal regional market developed by the United States. for its own benefit.

With both US political parties indulging in the populist view that promoting globalization is bad policy, the likelihood that President Joe Biden is planning a return to the CPTPP is close to zero. Indeed, any effort by the White House to seek congressional support to engage in the CPTPP would likely end in disaster.

The more important question now is how the current eleven members of the CPTPP, Japan being the most powerful of the group, deal with the double demands for membership of the pact from China and Taiwan.

China is the world’s second largest market and plays an important role in the Indo-Pacific regional economy. But Taiwan, which registered its formal interest just days after Beijing, has economic regulations and business practices much closer to the standards required by the CPTPP. The situation is made even more complicated by the seven decades of struggle for the sovereignty of the two candidates.

As stated in the article “Can the CPTPP change China, or will China change it?” By Nikkei commentator Hiroyuki Akita posted online Oct. 30, experts in the region are divided over how to juggle these two rather different apps. Some are in favor of taking China’s candidacy seriously, given the potential for significant benefits to Indo-Pacific economies if China can truly meet CPTPP standards.

Others want to focus on excluding China, because they believe that CPTPP membership would do too much to strengthen Beijing’s regional power, and they doubt the sincerity of China’s willingness to reform its economy sufficiently. to meet CPTPP standards. Meanwhile, among CPTPP members, most of the voices that have so far spoken in support of Taiwan’s candidacy come from Japan.

I believe the solution to this conundrum lies in the details. If CPTPP members consider and negotiate the nominations from China and Taiwan separately, it will create a narrow playing field where China can force CPTPP members one by one to make substantial concessions.

Such a setup would allow China to relax the CPTPP rules and gain various exceptions and extensions, allowing it to join the CPTPP without making the unique changes to its economy that should be the price of club membership. At the same time, China would be able to push these same counterparts, via bilateral diplomacy, to block Taiwan’s candidacy.

Rather than dealing with them separately, I think CPTPP members should consider the applications from China and Taiwan together, at the same negotiating table, and thus force the two to compete substantially for admission.

Such a combined and competitive process will yield better results, as both candidates would be invited in the same forum to meet the strict CPTPP requirements that China, in particular, would find intimidating – including disciplines such as the rules on state-owned enterprises. , unions, environmental standards, access for foreign investors, protection of intellectual property rights, rules of the digital economy and currency convertibility.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who is due to visit Japan on November 15. Washington faces the supreme irony of seeing its main strategic rival become a major beneficiary of a trade deal it has crafted for its own benefit. © Reuters

This kind of judo movement by CPTPP partners will use the energy of China’s candidacy to force it either to reform its economy or to retreat into embarrassment from the CPTPP dojo.

The other smart move that Japan and the other CPTPP members should take, right now, is to actively solicit more candidates to join the same round of upcoming CPTPP negotiation sessions, sitting and competing with China and Taiwan.

The UK and South Korea are both known to be very interested in the CPTPP, and they have large and capable market economies. The addition of these partners, and possibly others such as the Philippines, will help strengthen the CPTPP’s focus on high standards and lead to even greater economic benefits at the end of the process.

Tokyo can do a lot to improve its difficult relationship with Seoul by reaching out and actively encouraging South Korea to apply to join the CPTPP – without asking for any unrelated consideration to the Seoul CPTPP.

Meanwhile, given Tokyo’s close friendship with London, the Japanese government is in the best position among CPTPP partners to approach Boris Johnson’s government and encourage a UK demand for CPTPP in the immediate future.

As for the United States, while Tokyo can and should consult Washington on this matter, the Japanese government must realize that it cannot rely on the United States, which is not a member of the CPTPP, to help many cope. to China. -The enigma of Taiwan’s CPTPP. Japan will need to chart a way forward using its own endowments, while providing support from like-minded partners among CPTPP members.

The upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ gathering on November 12 is a fitting opportunity to work on this agenda, even by video conference. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s scheduled visit to Tokyo on November 15 will be another useful opportunity to devise good strategies.


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