Colin Grabow makes the case that the U.S. has more to gain from China’s development of Asia and linking of Pacific nations than it has to lose. China’s One Belt One Road infrastructure program will develop the Asian interior, linking isolated markets and resources to the world. Meanwhile, China is hammering out a trade pact in the Pacific called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The pact could be a stepping stone to real free trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Grabow says that the U.S. will be able to benefit from both initiatives without putting up any of its own money or prestige. He writes:
Rather than sound the alarm over China’s latest moves, policymakers should be open to the possibility that Beijing is finally becoming the responsible stakeholder that many have long urged it to be. On the trade front, encouragement is to be found in senior Chinese officials’ rhetorical support for free trade and its institutions, while Chinese leadership’s support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a key steppingstone toward eventual realization of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Although in many ways inferior to the TPP, the RCEP’s standards could yet be improved, and even if left unchanged they still represent forward progress for free trade in the region.
Meanwhile, China’s backing of both the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative holds the possibility of much-needed improvements in infrastructure and connectivity that could bolster regional and global trade. With none of its own resources or prestige at stake, the United States stands to benefit considerably, and at little cost, from China’s efforts in this regard.
Moreover, zero-sum fears that China’s increasing prosperity and commensurate growth in its regional influence come at U.S. expense should be balanced against the dangers presented by a country that is, alternatively, isolated and economically flailing. Mired in its economic failures before opening up to reform in the late 1970s, China was dangerous to both its neighbors and itself, with the country engaging in several border wars as well as the disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
Rather than reflexively viewing China’s economic initiatives as an affront to U.S. interests, the Trump administration should attempt to harness China’s emerging taste for global economic leadership. Instead of focusing so intently on the trade disputes that divide us, the Trump administration should seek to conclude the bilateral investment treaty negotiation and consider the merits of initiating negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement with China. Through such cooperation, the United States and China could become successful partners in the promotion of trade and prosperity in the increasingly vital Asia-Pacific region.
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