With the Obama administration’s high-profile pivot toward Asia this week — pushing for a new free-trade agreement with at least eight other countries and securing military basing rights in Australia — China is feeling at once isolated, criticized, encircled and increasingly like a taret of U.S. moves.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which was the major policy issue at the APEC summit in Honolulu, will raise tensions between China and the U.S. and spill over from the realm of economics into the realm of security concerns:
Among the friction points between the United States and China, a particular source of tension is the U.S. push for a new free-trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which pointedly does not include China. Beijing sees the development of the TPP as a political move, to create a U.S.-dominated counterweight to a rival trade bloc of Southeast Asian countries plus China, Japan and South Korea, known by the acronym ASEAN Plus Three.
“President Obama wants to intensely push on all fronts,” said Zhu Feng, a professor at Peking University’s School of International Studies. “It’s very, very depressing. Of course, it’s targeting China. It’s a new East Asian strategy.”
Zhu said he feared that the Chinese government would react to feeling isolated — particularly if the United States pursues the TPP free-trade agreement with Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and, perhaps, Japan, without China being invited to join. And the one area where Beijing could react is the economic arena, where the United States and China had lately been acting more cooperatively, even as they continued to disagree on the issue of currency valuation.
“What worries me for the moment is, economically China’s backlash could be very serious,” Zhu said. “Economics has turned out to be common ground for both sides. Now I have to say security elements will complicate China’s view of economic engagement.”
But, analysts here said, China expects to be taken seriously as a player in the East Asian region. And the analysts feared that any U.S. moves seen as provocative might only push a nervous China to take defensive measures.
“If the U.S. tries to be provocative . . . and treat China as a rival, it will definitely trigger an arms race and put East Asia in a tight spot,” said Sun Zhe, an international relations professor at Tsinghua University. “This is what alarms me most.”