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China's TPP ambition puts Japan in a bind: expert

US-Sino tensions unlikely to ease right after Biden takes office, professor says

Without the U.S., China would be the biggest economy in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, if accepted as a member.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- Japan will face a conundrum if China makes an official request to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as the U.S. will absolutely oppose such a trade framework, Jia Qingguo, an international relations expert, told Nikkei. 

Calls are growing within China "to quickly join the TPP-11 to be part of rule-making because that would benefit China in the long term," said Jia, a professor at the Peking University School of International Studies, referring to the 11-member trade block formally known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

If that push gains momentum, "China could officially announce joining the TPP-11," he said. This would be a challenge for Japan because "refusing the request would mean a confrontation with China, but Japan cannot accept it easily either because the U.S. would never agree to that."

The U.S. was part of negotiations to create the trade bloc but withdrew under President Donald Trump's "America-first" policy. Japan has since been leading the group and is hoping to bring the U.S. back into the fold.

Jia does not anticipate U.S.-China tensions easing immediately after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

 Jia Qingguo a professor at Peking University School of International Studies who has advised China's government.

"A hard-line stance toward China is gaining momentum within the U.S. Democratic Party," said Jia. "On issues such as human rights, Tibet, the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Hong Kong, frictions and contradictions could expand." 

"Still, on the whole, the relationship will stabilize," he said. "President Trump took extremely provocative action toward China in the later phase of his presidency. This is a very perilous situation, and the new president is unlikely to continue that policy."

Jia expects China and the U.S. to avoid a new Cold War-type confrontation, which he believes would have been inevitable had Trump won a second term. 

"With the inauguration of the Biden administration, the U.S. will resort back to the pre-Trump era's rational behavior," Jia said. "Working with China and protection of the world order is of great interest for the U.S. The most foolish choice is to confront China."

Biden has still signaled plans to challenge China's growing influence in international commerce. 

"Former President Barack Obama insisted that international trade rules needed to be formed under U.S. leadership. President-elect Biden must also think that international rules created under China's leadership are not good," Jia said.

Jia argues that if China, Japan and South Korea can cooperate, East Asia will be more secure and prosperous. "Unfortunately, because of historical and territorial issues, the relationship among the three nations is very complicated," he said. 

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