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Expert: Japan should take initiative in TPP in absence of U.S.

  • January 31, 2022
  • , Nikkei , p. 9
  • JMH Translation
  • ,

Below is an interview of Katada Saori, University of Southern California professor, as told to Nishimura Hiroyuki.


The U.S. does not want China to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, but the U.S. does not openly oppose China’s participation as long as it itself is not participating in the trade pact. Even though Japan cares about what the U.S. plans to do, I believe Japan can take the initiative [in the TPP].


The U.S. is not likely to return to the TPP in the near future, as it advocates “foreign policy for the middle class,” which prioritizes the interests of the general public. Trade will no longer score points in politics, and the Biden administration has basically adopted Trump-era policies against free trade.


China applied for membership now so it can negotiate terms of participation advantageous to it while the U.S. is absent. It aims to obtain concessions on the reform of state-owned enterprises, which the TPP requires. China also aims to prevent U.S. and European companies from decoupling their supply chains from China in response to the U.S.-China conflict.


The TPP was created at U.S. initiative. China’s aim in participating is to strengthen its global influence by taking advantage of an existing system and its legitimacy.


Many people in Japan think that Japan should not agree to China’s participation. In the long run, we should carefully consider which is better for Japan and Japanese companies: a world where the rules-based economic order has been lost or a world where China follows the rules.


Of course, it will take time before China will follow the rules. There will be great benefits if we can promote change [in China] even if it is in stages. It is imperative that Japan negotiate carefully with China and sternly insist it comply with the TPP rules to join it.


Japan should cooperate with Singapore, which in reality wants to maintain a high-quality agreement, as well as with Australia, and convince China that it cannot join under relaxed conditions.


At the same time, TPP member states should institute a mechanism for China to follow the rules such as expanding the TPP’s conflict resolution system and establish a secretariat.


It is important for countries with the same interests and ideas to become a force that can compete with China, and to create a framework in which China loses if it does not join the framework. This is the case with the TPP. Another such case is cooperation under the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” in the areas of infrastructure investment, digital technology, and infectious diseases.


Japan holds the casting vote in the U.S.-China conflict as intermediary. I would like Japan to formulate a strategy which includes persuading the U.S. as well as China [to join the TPP].

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