Originally Posted by GordMay
Given the lack of transparency, it's difficult to form a rational opinion.
Gord, as usual, presents a gem of succinct gem of wisdom.
Still, the silence on CF is surprising. And prompts inquiry into why the US wants the mainstream media to report nothing about the TPP.
Like not a few Australians, I cruise
to Southeast Asia
and sometime beyond to Northeast Asia
. And so dare to offer a few (with another nod to Gord who correctly points to the lack of information that the many self-proclaimed 'democratic' governments are giving to their citizens) irrational opinions:
1. The US is putting a lot of diplomatic resources into the TPP, probably for a tiny return.
Much of the big and easy benefits of 'free trade' have already been won. The remaining unclaimed fruit are going to be hard picking. The TPP will undoubtedly make some people richer. In the state of ignorance in which elected leaders choose to keep us, we can only guess that the US Big Pharma and the US Big Intellectual Property are likely to be the chief winners. Bully for them. You might be heavily invested in them or employed by them, in which case you may be a winner.
Of course, if the Obama administration brings the TPP to bed
, then Obama gets to point to the TPP as a major achievement, something to give substance to his 'Pivot to Asia' rhetoric. Good luck with that. He's not got many other successes to leave his mark in history
2. The TPP is quite divisive to East Asia, but then East Asia is at a peak of divisiveness (and at a time when the US, perhaps because of its expenditure of force on Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., seems either temporarily weak or already headed down a historical slide to the bottom).
The big division is of course about China
. The US has excluded China
from the TPP negotiations, albeit while saying that China can be included later.
But note the recent reaction of US State Department to the UK, when the UK gave notice that it would sign up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank proposed by China. Many in Asia see the AIIB as a replacement for the Asian Development Bank, a development bank that complements the Bretton-Woods structures without disturbing them - and of course the ADB is always directed by a Japanese (in the same way that a European always directs the IMF and a USA citizen always directs the World Bank Group) and is headquartered in the biggest ex-US colony in Asia, the Philippines
So the US State Department's reaction to the UK suggests the US does want to contain China and sees the AIIB as a break out challenge from that containment. And if you follow that suggestion, then the US exclusion of China from the TPP might be seen as part of its attempt to make containment of China a big content of the Pivot to Asia.
If Republic of Korea
move in the next 6 months to join the AIIB, I'm sure we'll see US State Department do some fancy footwork and change its talking points fast. My bet is for ROK and Aus to join, based on the real economic ties between each of them and China.
If ROK and Aus do join AIIB, they will devalue the TPP, in the sense that the reason they join the AIIB is precisely that those two economies see themselves as already economically integrated with China. And what's the point of a trade
pact which includes ROK and Aus, but excludes their biggest trade and economic partner?
Note that the divisions in East Asia are not all about China. ROK and Japan
have their own territorial disputes. Russia
And the Southeast Asian economies? Individually and collectively caught in crises of identity. ASEAN is a permanent crisis of identity. Remember the old days in the 1960s as SE Asia stumbled towards ASEAN? Each of the founding economies had their bureaucracies draw up a list of what they were prepared to buy from the other members. Quoting from memory, the Indonesia
list had nuclear power plants and snowplows on their list. A serious basis for economic integration.
But China's existence and recent history
are a big part of the divisions in East Asia. Take the South China Sea, for example. After solid economic growth in the 1950s, China spent much of the 1960s and the 1970s in internal leadership squabbles. So when its neighbours used the fast economic growth on offer (exporting light industrial goods to the world) to get rich, China tore itself apart. And did not have a unified leadership to direct power projection in the race
for maritime resources that was unleashed by the process leading up to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.
By missing that opportunity in time, China lost
a chance to solidify its claim to the South China Sea. So now we have to watch an inelegant dance as China sees how far its power projection can work
. Japan is happy to play a role - gifting resources to Philippines
in the hope that Japan wins approval from the US and that Philippines and Vietnam
cause problems to China.
3. The TPP is quite divisive to the political-economic elites of Asia economies.
I usually cruise
Led Myne from Australia
, and Thailand
every year or two. The mainstream media in each of those economies and their readers are kept just as ignorant of the content and future implications of the TPP as in the US and Australia. Of course, the diplomatic resources each of those economies brings to the TPP negotiating table is much less than what the US projects. Singapore
, as an open economy entirely dependent on trade has to go along. The others are likely to go along just because the local economic elites usually control the political decisions. But I suspect that in Malaysia
, and Indonesia would be quietly happy if the TPP falls over for other reasons than themselves.
The big circus caused by the TPP is of course in Japan. Any time a domestic circus in Japan gets reported in the Japanese press, you know it's a big deal. That's just a reflection of the nature of Japan and its society (and its media, not known for investigative reporting on the scale of Watergate). But pick up any Nippon newspaper from the past few weeks and read the headlines: the circus of Japan's protected economic sectors that have been lobbying hard for their sectors to be excluded from the TPP. And, as you're familiar, what's the currency of lobbying in democracy? You guessed it, the 'democratic' economy of Japan has the best democracy money
can buy. So the content of the current
circus in Japan is something you could guess: Abe, the premier, 7 of his ministers, and the leader of the weak (but nevertheless still there) chief opposition party have all accepted big yen from the agricultural sectors that are at risk if the TPP were to go ahead without excluding them. The Minister for Agriculture, Nishikawa, has just resigned. One of the many groups pouring fat envelopes into Nishikawa's pocket was a company in the sugar industry, which of course wants to exclude its tariff protection from the sight of the TPP.
Back to ASEAN: each of the individual economies has its own crisis of identity. Indonesia is a bright spot at the moment and a candidate to be the first genuine democracy in Southeast Asia if current
trends continue. For the rest, the difference is to what degree business has captured the political elite or the political elite captured the economy or the two are interpenetrated. Look at the circus of Thailand: the current monarch is about to die (although out of respect he will likely give precedence to Lee Kuan Yew). Next in line is the son who had appointed his pet poodle as the Air Chief Marshall of the Thai Airforce (the poodle died recently). The son, if he inherits, inherits a big chunk of the Thai economy. But the son, as well as having a strange relationship with women
and a poodle (if you search the web, you should be able to find the video of Prince V and his then wife having lunch to celebrate the birthday of said poodle; it's worth a look. Said wife sits there naked, served by the usual obliging palace servants in their uniforms. And said wife gets down on all fours at one time to eat with said poodle) has a connection with the persons in the two former democratically elected governments, person who are out of favour with the rest of the Bangkok politico-economic elite including the Bangkok nobility. Need I mention Malaysia and its communal divisions, let alone its constant capacity to produce scandals (e.g. the Mongolian woman, Altantuya, who was killed by the elite bodyguards of the prime minister apparently without orders but nevertheless military explosives were used to spread her corpse around the environment
- all somehow inexplicably linked to the purchase
of French submarines for the Malaysian navy
with said submarines apparently unable to dive in tropical water
; or the current scandal involving a sovereign wealth investment company that may have been associated with money
underwriting the purchase
of luxury apartments in NY City and the production of the 'Wolf of Wall Street' movie
- or maybe those really are just unfounded rumours pushed by people with seditious tendencies)? Or the Philippines and it's latest crisis, in which President Aquino's administration is shaking because of a bizarre police action, with gendarmes bursting into a camp of an armed group, which had negotiated what might have been an end to yet another insurrection, only to find that they had no military back-up from the nearby army unit but that the armed group was battle ready and did not appreciate having their morning prayers and coffee interrupted?
4. Look at the volume of trade and its routes yourself
Any compulsive reader of CF would have seen such Europeans as Dockhead and CarstenB suggesting a look at the volume of marine
traffic (as revealed by AIS
on marinetraffic.com) to be aware of what a busy waterway is like.
Have a go yourself: point your browser to marinetraffic.com. Move the map so ROK and Japan are at the centre of your screen
(links to the individual cells of the map don't work
, you have to do the mouse work yourself). Then zoom in. Count the ships around ROK and Japan. Then move down the China coast looking at the big ports
, starting with the Bohai (ports such as Tianjin), then around the coast of Shandong (count the ships travelling from ports
in Shandong to ports in ROK), then south along the China coast to the Taiwan
Strait and then to Hong Kong/Pearl River Delta
. Have a look at the mess of ships around such export ports in Taiwan
as Kaohsiung. Then look at the Singapore Strait, noting the activity at both Port of Singapore and also Port of Tanjung Pelapas, the port set up in Malaysia to steal traffic from Singapore. Depending on your patience, watch the march of ships up and down the Malacca Strait. If you've time on your hands, do your own a statistical survey
- you can either hover your pointer over a ship and see its destination
and other details or you can click on Destination
(menu on the top) and see the ships in view. See how important East Asia is to the world? and how important China is to East Asia?
Then ask yourself:
why really is the US putting resources into the TPP?
Is an attempt at 'containing' China worth it? Or might some other approach to China be better for the future?
What real benefits will US voters get from screwing a tiny benefit from the sugar industry (to pick one industry in Japan hiding behind the tariff wall)?
If China continues its economic rise, how kindly will its leaders in 2035 think about what they likely perceive as slights from the 2015 leaders of the US?