Saturday, December 4, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021

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In Our View: China’s growing power must be countered

The Columbian
Published:

In two weeks, world leaders will gather for a climate summit in Scotland. It is an important meeting; severe weather events, driven by climate change, have hampered the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and have generated growing concern about the future of the planet.

China is certain to be a topic of discussion at the summit. The quickly industrializing nation is the world’s largest producer of carbon emissions, and China’s actions will have an outsized impact on climate change.

As world leaders attempt to cajole China toward serious steps to reduce emissions, we will be reminded of the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership. The trade pact, negotiated during the Obama presidency and then abandoned by the United States, is not exclusively related to climate change, but it can provide significant leverage in dealing with China.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated for nearly a decade, was a trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. It excluded China and was designed to be both a carrot and a stick in addressing Chinese trade practices.

But by the time President Barack Obama left office, neither political party supported the agreement. Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, opposed it. And as columnist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times explains, “President Donald Trump promptly tore it up rather than learn what it was about and get Congress to ratify it …

“Trump was so ignorant about the contents of the TPP before he tore it up — his main objection was surely that Obama had negotiated it — that when he was first asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015, Trump incorrectly suggested that China was in it from the start.”

Trump instead pursued misguided tariffs against Chinese imports to the United States as the centerpiece of his trade policy. That did little other than lead to counter-tariffs by China and create a trade war that has cost American producers and consumers.

That war has continued to linger, with President Joe Biden slow to remove the thoughtless tariffs and engage with Chinese leaders.

This has an impact on our state. Regarded as the most trade-dependent state in the nation, Washington’s prosperity depends on free markets. China remains our largest trading partner, but the value of exports from Washington to China dropped 43 percent from 2017 to 2018 and has yet to recover.

China has emerged as the biggest threat to U.S. economic supremacy. That growing power has emboldened the Chinese to become a military threat, as well, with overtures about taking over Taiwan. American officials and pundits are reduced to hand-wringing over what to do about the world’s most populous country.

All of that should revive discussions regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its successor, which was approved by 11 nations following the U.S. withdrawal. The current agreement includes American allies — and frequent trading partners — such as Canada, Japan and Mexico. Canada and Japan rank Nos. 2 and 3 in terms of exports from Washington, following China.

The original Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to influence China’s behavior. Now, Chinese leaders have applied to join the current agreement as the United States stands on the sidelines.

Rejecting the TPP five years ago was a shortsighted nod to growing American nationalism, and it has had deleterious consequences. Whether addressing carbon emissions, trade or military power, the United States must act in concert with allies to counter growing Chinese power.

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