On trade pacts and political blocs – Japan and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

In as much as trade-pacts are future political blocs, the US and Japan will still have some ways to go before they form a trade bloc, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, comprising 40 per cent of the global economy.

But for now, the US has officially allowed Japan to join the talks on the creation of the 11-member group. 

The White House and Japan’s Shinzo Abe are keen to hash out the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a bulwark against China’s emerging economic dominance.

Abe, himself, highlighted the urgency, according to AFP:

“I want our participation in the negotiations to come into force quickly so we can play a critical role in defining the rules” of the pact, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo.

It’s worth noting that it is the White House, not all of the Democratic Party, that supports Japan’s inclusion, as it will put pressure on US automakers. The nascent manufacturing movement in the US also opposes its old foe Japan.

Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul:

“Including Japan in the TPP without ironclad assurances that it will open its markets and stop manipulating its currency is incredibly irresponsible.


“Before the real negotiations have even started, it looks like the Obama Administration has already given Japan a blank check to cheat.


“Haven’t we learned anything from the last decade? Large trade imbalances and barriers in autos, auto parts, and other manufactured goods have gone unaddressed, and were not adequately addressed in this consultation.


Abe, faces stiff resistance around agriculture, which the US and Japan have considered leaving out of the deal. For more on the announcement from the US, click here. And yet, Japan and the US are political allies, facing a huge shared political challenge in Asia. A key element to the TPP, which is highly controversial for its intellectual property and investor-state dispute settlement resolution clauses, is that it would throw a lasso of trade rules across the Asia-Pacific region. The concern among civil society activists, is that it would be a lasso of bad rules, which are overly company-friendly but damaging to democracy.

Then in the final analysis, the TPP’s intent must be compared to what will prevail in its absence in Asia regarding trade, IP, legal remedies for disputes. Bottom line: lots of work to do.

And as complex and cumbersome as the TPP negotiations are, if the governments involved want the rules to have anything like support from the citizens of these nations – which are at vastly different levels of development – they need to provide some element of transparency in the negotiations to their citizen-stakeholders.

As Cicero said: “Freedom is participation in power.” If the US, Japan and other countries can’t do better than this, than how are they any better than the clearly authoritarian governments they stand against?

On Japan’s military

NYT piece on the shift in the Japanese public’s view towards its military in the face of China’s and North Korea’s threats.

“Although Japanese liberals and critics elsewhere in Asia fear that [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe is using regional tensions as an excuse to ram through a hawkish agenda, opinion polls show he has broad public support for his overall policies.”

The article also notes the boost the Japanese Self Defense Force received through their domestic work after the Fukushima disaster. But the main driver, of course, is China, which is emboldening Abe to pursue a more activist, normalized Japanese military. It’s also potentially giving its armaments industry a boost, which will have many customers through Asia.

Language to ideology in Abe’s visit to Washington

There are many ways in which a new cold war, or cool war, if you prefer, will not look like the old Cold War. Technology, interconnectivity, globaliztion – as long as it lasts. Shinzo Abe’s visit to Washington underscores one aspect which is a throw-back to the old Cold War: the scrutiny of language. This became clear when Abe’s people backtracked from some candid comments Abe made about the political legitimacy of the Communist Party of China. 
What’s interesting is Abe’s assessment that equality had failed in China and a policy of hating Japan had emerged in its place. 
It’s also important that the Abe government’s backtracking came after the Chinese took issue with his statements
This means the diplomatic pressure is not just about what countries do but say. And if leaders have to be circumspect about their views, then look for more code words to take their place – like during the Cold War. And the natural outgrowth of that is an eventual ideology that takes the place of what leaders can’t say in public. Like how in the Cold War, Americans would decry the lack of free speech in the Soviet Bloc, while Communists would attack race relations in the US, which were, in their mind, a symbol of capitalist decline.
Another area where I think will be an increasing split in language is in the ideology and purpose of technology- and you can see that issue just flaring now around the not-so-secret business of PLA hacking of Western trade secrets.

Post-letter action

It will be very interesting to see if tensions ease over the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands in the wake of the ice-breaking letter sent from Japan to China’s new leader in waiting Xi Jinping.

The letter from Shinzo Abe to Xi Jinping, as seen by The Associated Press, did not contain any substantial overtures, but it sent wishes of good health, spoke of the two countries’ ‘‘shared responsibility for peace and prosperity’’ in the region and said Friday’s meeting was a ‘‘valuable opportunity to share views.’’

If the Chinese continue to send ships, it underscores the disconnect between the civilian leadership and the Chinese military. Xi Jinping technically has control over the PLA, but it’s never clear who makes the decision to dispatch ships and planes.