Hideyuki Hasegawa, Editorial Vice Chairman
The U.S. presidential election is not much different from elections in Japan in that it tends to focus more on immediate interests, such as gaining voters’ support, rather than looking at the future strategically. But we still cannot overlook debates over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the U.S. presidential election. The Republican candidate Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, have said, “I will oppose the TPP even after the presidential election.”
President Obama has planned to have Congress approve the agreement by the end of his term, but given the current circumstances, that is not likely to happen.
The rhetoric is excessively inward-looking.
Both candidates seem to be wary of an anticipated invasion of Japanese automobiles. The U.S. import tariff on Japanese cars is 2.5%, and it will be removed in 25 years under the agreement, which we believed to be rather disadvantageous to Japan. The two candidates’ overreactions, reminiscent of the past trade frictions between the two countries, make us uneasy.
The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has also opposed the data protection period for biomedicines under the accord. This period was the sticking point, the toughest issue in the TPP, and was negotiated until the last phase. If the period is renegotiated, it could ruin the whole framework of the TPP.
I worry more than anything else that the two candidates fail to recognize the TPP’s strategic significance. As China increases its hegemonic advancement, what role will the U.S. play in establishing order regionally?
When the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong met with President Obama, he made a harsh remark at a joint press conference with the president, saying, “The reputation of the U.S. depends on the TPP accord in terms of its engagement in the Asia-Pacific Region.” Lee went on to say, “The absence of ‘the bride’ (the U.S.) would hurt many and it will take a long time to heal the wound.” How will the U.S. respond to such concerns from the TPP signatories?
What needs to be addressed is the changing relationship between China and the international community. While turning a blind eye to China’s hegemonism, each country has focused on strengthening economic ties with the PRC until last year. This trend, however, has obviously changed.
There has never been a period when the connection between China’s economic diplomacy and its military power has been as feared as it is now. While ignoring the ruling on the South China Sea issue by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Beijing is attempting to win over the Philippines – the other party concerned in the lawsuit – through economic support to Manila. The international community is wary of such tactics.
Australia, whose free trade agreement (FTA) with China was effectuated at the end of last year, is vacillating between its security strategies and economic ties with China. Even the UK, which has actively engaged with China, is having second thoughts about China’s participation in its nuclear power project.
Vietnam and Malaysia – countries surrounding the South China Sea – are participating in the TPP. The Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia are also interested in the agreement. If the TPP comes to a standstill on account of opposition in the U.S., it is obvious who would benefit from the failure.
There are significant issues for Japan as well. When Lee made the remark about the possible absence of the U.S. in the TPP, he referred to Abe as one of those who could be hurt, saying: “The absence of the U.S. would also damage Japan-U.S. relations and their bilateral security agreements. Japan depends on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. If the U.S. fails to achieve its initiative in trade relations, Japan would likely wonder which country it can rely on in the event of a crisis.”
Japan should no longer let another country’s leader speak for it. If the prime minister recognizes the TPP’s strategic significance, he should express it both inside and outside Japan. Japan should waste no more time dealing with domestic affairs.