Following the Indo-Pacific Strategy put in place in early 2022, the Biden administration in May announced the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which aims to create high standards related to cooperation in digital trade areas, clean energy, supply chain security. , taxes and anti -corruption. It also aims to maintain the dominant position of the United States in terms of economic and commercial cooperation in this region.
However, in the face of internal political opposition in the United States and concerns from countries in the region, this framework has many birth defects: on the one hand, it lacks major incentives such as reducing tariffs and market access, on the other hand, its strategic orientation of isolation and exclusion in China makes it difficult for many countries in the region.
The weakest link
In February 2022, the Biden administration officially released the Indo-Pacific Strategy document. In the strategic design of the U.S. government, economic security is an integral part of national security, and economic and trade cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region is related to the competitiveness and attractiveness of the United States in the region.
After the Trump administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) early in its inauguration, the United States was unable to participate in negotiations for multilateral economic and trade agreements in the region. Asia-Pacific for several years. During this time, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) began, which the United States lacked, while China, the main competitor in the eyes of the United States, actively sought to join the Agreement. Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which was upgraded after the US withdrawal, and the Agreement on Digital Economy Partnership (APEN). As a result, the weak link of the Indo-Pacific Strategy in the field of economy and trade is increasingly visible.
The United States does not want to accept an “post-American era” of the Asia-Pacific system of economic and trade cooperation or lose its dominance in setting the rules for global digital trade.
That the TPP was deemed a “political death” to the United States and that the Biden administration, which has implemented a policy that “American workers must come first”, does not want to negotiate a new comprehensive agreement economic and trade cooperation in Asia -Pacific countries and it is not feasible, the feasible strategy for the United States is to develop a loosely integrated framework of economic and trade cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries . congressional approval.
Based on the above, US President Joe Biden began his first trip to East Asia almost a year and a half after taking office, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) came into the shadows after a few months of consultations between the United States and its allies and partner countries. On May 23, Joe Biden announced in Tokyo that a total of thirteen countries, such as the United States, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have established members of the IPEF. It is estimated to cover a population of 2.5 billion people, and the combined economic of these member countries represents 40% of the total world.
It should be noted that the IPEF includes all members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India, all US military allies in the Asia-Pacific, as well as all ASEAN countries except Myanmar , Laos and Cambodia.
In the spirit of the United States, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework rests on four pillars: first, to develop so-called fair, high-level and binding rules in areas such as digital trade, labor and the environment; second, to improve the stability and security of supply chains for important industries such as chips, high -capacity batteries, medical products and essential minerals; third, promote the construction of high -level infrastructure, as well as the development of decarburization technologies and green technologies; finally, strengthening oversight and cooperation on tax matters, against money laundering and against corruption.
To improve the inclusiveness of the IPEF, the United States does not require member states to participate in negotiations in all areas, so that they can negotiate at the ministerial level around the four pillars as they wish.
Speaking about the strategic goal to advance the IPEF, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai explicitly said that it aims to effectively counter China’s growing influence. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also clarified that IPEF offers Asian countries an alternative to China and US companies should take advantage of it.
In fact, some Asia-Pacific countries have high expectations for US participation in the region’s economic and trade cooperation. Singapore’s position is somewhat representative: according to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework has strategic importance and economic interests, it could be an important platform for the United States to develop economic diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region, and it clarifies that the United States will continue to strive to cooperate with partner countries in Asia and build influence in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, many countries in the Asia-Pacific are hoping that the United States will join the CPTPP, especially Japan.
“Targeting China” is not popular
As a region with a high level of acceptance and realization of globalization and free trade, the Asia-Pacific has developed a very strong consensus on promoting its economic and trade integration. It continues to improve the level of liberalization and facilitation of trade and investment, forming a single channel of cooperation and developing a regional and coherent platform of cooperation.
At a critical time where the world is facing many crises in the energy, food and supply chain, and many countries are facing high inflation and the sharp decline in the living standards of the people, the real hope of the region is Asia-Pacific is for the United States. to vigorously promote the upgrading of regional cooperation to achieve economic recovery. In fact, it does not want to see any framework aimed at forcing different parties to choose sides, creating divisions and antagonisms, as well as publicly or covertly promoting economic decoupling, technological blockade and disconnection from the industrial chain. .
In other words, Asia-Pacific countries generally do not support the US “re-inventing the wheel” to attack the existing framework of regional cooperation and make the IPEF a tool of strategic competition to exclude China.
In this regard, the attitude of the Republic of Korea, which has recently moved into a comprehensive strategic alliance with the United States, is the most representative. The South Korean government stressed that the so-called supply chain alliance jointly established by the United States and the ROK has no intention of excluding China from global industrial chain cooperation and the supply chain, and the Republic of Korea will strengthen close communication. along with China, to avoid China feeling ignored and excluded.
Moreover, the ROK will not only continue to cooperate with China to build a more resilient supply chain, but will actively promote negotiations on upgrading the China-ROK Free Trade Agreement. .
In fact, the United States is well aware of the concerns of Asia-Pacific countries and the inadequacy of the IPEF at present. Due to opposition to its local policy, the United States did not include the most incentive measures when the IPEF was launched, for example, the reduction of tariffs and market access. But at the same time, they expect all of the following to achieve relatively high standards of enforcement in the areas of digital trade, energy, environmental protection, climate, emission reduction and labor rights. Therefore, many Asian countries have shown an uncertain attitude to this framework.
In other words, almost unborn, the Economic Framework for the Indo-Pacific is already tangled with expectations and doubts. If it can promote economic recovery and cooperation in the industrial chain as the main goal, stick to the idea of opening and win, act in accordance with the rules of free trade, sincerely seek unity, stability and prosperity in the region, as as well as the removal of geopolitical selfishness and the intention to isolate and exclude China, this framework will be constructive and lasting and will bring wealth to the United States rewards worthy of political courage and ingenuity. of the decision of its decision makers.
By ZHANG XUDONG, researcher at the Institute of Global Governance and Development under Tongji University, and doctor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University.