East Asia is an economically integrated region. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is expected to come into effect in January 2022, reflect economic integration of the region. The collective drive of the countries of the region towards economic growth has contributed to the cohesion of the region. Economic integration has acted as a counterweight against competitive political tendencies on the regional front. The inclination of the countries of the region towards economic integration underlines the importance of economic security. It also shows that a strong economy is the foundation on which the political castle is built. Economic agreements are platforms where states formulate the rules best suited to their well-being and to the region as a whole. With economic growth, the political weight of states is also increasing.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a new initiative. The CPTPP member states are Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Peru. These countries were initially part of a late Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The TPP was the economic arm of the American pivot to Asia. Former US President Barack Obama said “the United States, not China, should write regional trade rules.” However, in 2017, the Trump administration pulled out of the TPP. The development of the CPTPP shows that the countries of the region despite the US withdrawal from the TPP have continued with the idea of economic integration. The CPTPP can be described as a meaningful model of trade integration with members from the region and beyond. The transregional character of the CPTPP is an attraction for other economic actors. Engagement with CPTPP is a license to drive across the Indo-Pacific. For example, the likely inclusion of the EU in the CPTPP will provide the first with a trading platform to enter the Indo-Pacific alongside economic gains. The EU maintains trade relations with Japan (Japan-EU FTA) and Australia; the two countries in the region would support a like-minded actor in the CPTPP.
The concept of economic integration and trade liberalization has led to regionalism and economic growth. However, critics of plurilateral preferential trade see economic groupings as a political response by the West to the “rise of others”, especially China. Edward Luttwak, one of the early conceptualizers of the idea of geoeconomics, believes that “countries whose economies are threatened by China’s policies – policies that seek to make Chinese industries more competitive at the global scale – should unite to contain China geo-economically. China has asked to join the economic group despite the CPTPP’s political lineage with the US-led TPP. Premier Li Keqiang said China wants to “strengthen trade cooperation through free trade agreements.” Cao Xin, secretary general of the Charhar Institute (an international think tank in Beijing), writes in one of his articles: “China knows that the development of economic and trade relations with other countries of the world is the most effective means of retaliating against the containment of the Chinese policies carried out by the United States and its allies. CPTPP members, countries in the region, have trade relations with China and are also members of RCEP.
In today’s world, the strategic approach to strengthen bilateral commitments, be a transregional actor and broaden the geopolitical horizon, does not depend entirely on military capability. Rather than emerge strong on the political front and counter the weight of the adversary, economic diplomacy backed by economic prowess is essential. Economic organizations and economic corridors have become essential to a state’s foreign policy. The economic muscle also assesses the political outlook for the region. Submarines might send deterrent signals to the adversary, but to counter the challenger and prevent expansionism, the economic encounter is a much more powerful force. The US House of Congresses in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and New Zealand have urged the Biden administration to join the CPTPP.
Posted in The Express Tribune, November 25e, 2021.
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