Commentary: China should not expect a fast pass to join Pacific trade pact

The politics of accession are not starting from a clean slate: They will be influenced by China’s ongoing economic force and the priority attached to economic security - with China in mind - by several CPTTP members.The accession talks will also be influenced by Taiwan’s decision to follow on China’s heels and formally request entry into the CPTPP. The gap to close in meeting CPTPP standards is much narrower for Taiwan, and its semiconductor prowess makes an enticing case for membership in order to strengthen supply chains. But in this era of great power competition, the WTO accession model (with entry of China and Taiwan choreographed in sequence) will likely not hold. Geopolitics have descended full force into the CPTPP. China’s confidence in seeking CPTPP membership, despite questions over its commitment to far-reaching reform and recent tensions with important members of the trade grouping, speaks volumes to American marginalisation. In effect, it will be up to the middle and small powers in the CPTPP to uphold the trade and investment standards that the US cares deeply about as they entertain the Chinese membership bid. This is where the Chinese diplomatic manoeuvre is most poignant: The US has become a shadow to the centre of action in regional economic integration. In joining a mega trade agreement, heed must be paid to both the small print and the subtext. In other words, the nature of the trade and investment obligations and the climate of political and diplomatic relations loom large. Neither one points to a fast pass for China to enter the CPTPP. But this does not mean that China has erred in making this move. Mireya Solis is Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy programme at Brookings. This commentary first appeared on Brookings’ blog, Order From Chaos.

Commentary: China should not expect a fast pass to join Pacific trade pact

The politics of accession are not starting from a clean slate: They will be influenced by China’s ongoing economic force and the priority attached to economic security - with China in mind - by several CPTTP members.

The accession talks will also be influenced by Taiwan’s decision to follow on China’s heels and formally request entry into the CPTPP. The gap to close in meeting CPTPP standards is much narrower for Taiwan, and its semiconductor prowess makes an enticing case for membership in order to strengthen supply chains.

But in this era of great power competition, the WTO accession model (with entry of China and Taiwan choreographed in sequence) will likely not hold. Geopolitics have descended full force into the CPTPP.

China’s confidence in seeking CPTPP membership, despite questions over its commitment to far-reaching reform and recent tensions with important members of the trade grouping, speaks volumes to American marginalisation. In effect, it will be up to the middle and small powers in the CPTPP to uphold the trade and investment standards that the US cares deeply about as they entertain the Chinese membership bid.

This is where the Chinese diplomatic manoeuvre is most poignant: The US has become a shadow to the centre of action in regional economic integration.

In joining a mega trade agreement, heed must be paid to both the small print and the subtext. In other words, the nature of the trade and investment obligations and the climate of political and diplomatic relations loom large.

Neither one points to a fast pass for China to enter the CPTPP. But this does not mean that China has erred in making this move.

Mireya Solis is Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies, and Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy programme at Brookings. This commentary first appeared on Brookings’ blog, Order From Chaos.