Trump just handed the Pacific Rim to China

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Trump, thinking hard before killing TPP. Feel free to laugh bitterly.

Well, he didn’t just do it. I tweeted about it eight hours ago, but now let’s discuss it here.

Here’s what’s happened:

President Trump began recasting America’s role in the global economy Monday, canceling an agreement for a sweeping trade deal with Asia that he once called a “potential disaster.”

Trump signed the executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Oval Office after discussing American manufacturing with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The order was largely symbolic — the deal was already essentially dead in Congress — but served to signal that Trump’s tough talk on trade during the campaign will carry over to his new administration….

“This abrupt action so early in the Trump administration puts the world on notice that all of America’s traditional economic and political alliances are now open to reassessment and renegotiation,” said Eswar Prasad, trade policy professor at Cornell University. “This could have an adverse long-run impact on the ability of the U.S. to maintain its influence and leadership in world economic and political affairs.”…

Yeah, well, that’s not all it can do, and probably will do.

We’ve heard a lot of nonsense in the past year about TPP, most of which had little to do with what was actually at stake. There was a good piece summing up the situation fairly neatly in the NYT in November after the election. First, it explained, “the deal, between the United States and 11 Asian and Pacific nations, was never just about trade.” So what was it about? Serious, sweeping, grownup-level geopolitics:

The agreement, the Trans­-Pacific Partnership, was conceived as a vital move in the increasingly tense chess match between China and the United States for economic and military influence in the fastest­-growing and most strategically uncertain part of the world. The deal, which excluded China, was intended to give those 11 nations more leverage in that strained match by providing them with a viable economic alternative. And its defeat is an unalloyed triumph for China, the country that President­-elect Donald J. Trump castigated repeatedly over trade…

Now, instead of Pacific Rim nations gathering under American leadership, growing closer in the face of increasing lawless aggression by China, we have China moving to do much the same deal under its own leadership, freezing us out.

And we’re not just talking about weak-kneed nations in China’s geographic shadow, or some of the usual suspects in our own hemisphere, where the Chinese have been steadily wooing friends for a generation:

Australia said on Wednesday that it wanted to push ahead with a Chinese-­led trade pact that would cover Asian nations from Japan to India but exclude the United States. Peru has opened talks with Beijing to join the agreement as well. Even American business leaders are positioning themselves for the potential opportunities in Asia…

Et tu, Australia? One of our four closest friends in the world?

Of course, none of this matters a bit to Mr. America First, who likes to grumble at China but will hand Pacific leadership to it in order to curry favor with his isolationist, xenophobic base.

We’ve been in danger on this issue all year, with gratuitous populism washing over both ends of our political spectrum.

Some of my interlocutors here like to excuse Trump now and then by castigating Hillary Clinton for this or that. Everyone has his or her favorite Hillary sins to cite. Well, you know what I think is the most reprehensible, unprincipled thing she did in the past year?

It was turning away from TPP. And it was the worst because she knew better. Sanders and Trump didn’t but she did. And she lacked the confidence, security and character to stand up to the Feel the Bern crowd, even as the grownups in the Obama administration were working double tides to salvage sound policy.

So we were headed toward the wrong door either way. The only hope was that she might have hesitated when it came time to kill this “gold standard” (her words) agreement outright.

Trump, who is not burdened by knowing better, did not hesitate for an instant. And now, no doubt, they’re breaking out the Maotai in Beijing, because an advantageous position for the cause of freedom in the world just got flipped upside-down….

83 thoughts on “Trump just handed the Pacific Rim to China

  1. Richard

    Are you all but done reporting on SC issues? Your focus seems to be on bashing Trump, something you have absolutely no power or influence over. I hear those at the Statehouse are talking about raising taxes for fixing our roads. But you’ll never read about that here anymore.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for reminding me. Yes, that’s good news, if it happens. Sort of depends on Henry. I’m thinking he’s sent signals to the leadership.

      If so, great. Nikki’s been holding up rational progress a long time.

      I’ll get to it. But I’d not going to ignore the rise to power of the most grossly unfit man ever to hold the presidency. It’s one of those things that kinda stands out…

      1. Claus

        South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is being confirmed today, but we’d never know it if we relied just on this blog. For that I guess we’ll have to go to FitsNews.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          If you were laboring under the illusion that this was a news blog, you are bound to be sadly disappointed.

          If I get around to an open thread or a VFP, that will likely be one of the topics.

          Of course, it’s not HUGE news. She’s been pretty much a foregone conclusion since Trump nominated her. THAT was news…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            I typed “VSP” when I meant Virtual Front Page. I’ve done that before. I don’t know why…

            Am I confusing it with VIP, or ESB or VHS, or what?

  2. Doug Ross

    Man, you are going to be a real pleasure to be around for the nextt four years. Using more and more inflammatory words doesn’t make you more right. You’ve gone seriously off the deep end.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Doug, this is one of those places where you should know better, and have a wealth of personal connections with people from many cultures across the globe.

      TPP was a grand strategy move in a part of the world that hasn’t had one – and needs one. The choice was ours, or theirs (China’s). “America First” was not an option. Trump doesn’t have the big picture vision to see that; and neither do most Americans.

      Brad is correct on this. This was the petty politics of fear trumping the expansiveness of self-confidence. This was an abdication of that which is easy to complain about – until we no longer enjoy the hegemony that the U.S. enjoys from its world power status. And then people will wake up, and squeal “hey, what happened?” Pin-headed small thinking will be the answer; and the loss will stick.

      We either grow, or we atrophy, Those are the only options in life – in every sense. There is no going back to something else; some past way. Embrace the world as it is, triumph in it; or cower and rot.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        The great irony, of course, is this is the “make America great again” guy.

        So what’s the first foreign-policy move he makes? He takes a huge step in the direction of making America weak and irrelevant.

        Of course, that’s what “America Firsters” have always done. They have an extremely limited understanding of how the world works…

        1. Claus

          It’s called renegotiation. TPP wasn’t that much of a help to the US as it was to China. Just because the deal was pulled doesn’t mean there’s a new one being worked on. Those griping need to be looking at the big picture. I don’t hear many in Washington complaining about this move, in fact Bernie Sanders is in favor of it… so how bad can it be for the Democrats?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “in fact Bernie Sanders is in favor of it”

            Exactly. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. Democrats are just as likely to applaud a dumb move like this as Republicans are, if not more so…

            1. Claus

              I’ll put my faith in this decision being left to economists over a journalist who has been yelling wolf for the past six weeks. At a certain point, nobody listens to what you have to say.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Six weeks? Whaddya mean, six weeks? I’ve been denouncing this wolf — more of a coyote, really, or maybe a weasel — since he started winning primaries over his betters…

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I’m not following you. That’s not a question that would occur to me.

                    Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t approach everything in terms of what advantage I can get out of it…

          2. Mark Stewart

            The thing that really gives me pause is seeing a statement like this.

            “TPP wasn’t that much of a help to the US as it was to China;” Claus writes…

            The entire point of the TPP was to create a geo-political trading block that specifically excluded China. China was not a player in the TPP. What China therefore has been working toward is an alternate trade agreement that excludes the U.S. By terminating the TPP, Trump has ceded Asian trade leadership to the Chinese; that’s the bottom line.

            What is the problem here? The situation is really unfathomable; we are a leaderless state…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Which is what some Trump voters — and to a certain extent, some Bernie Sanders voters wanted — no leaders. They wanted “the people” to be in charge. Which means they wanted nobody to be in charge.

              Then again, they also wanted a strongman who would magically implement everything they wanted.

              Populism can be funny that way…

              1. Mark Stewart

                Well, if you want to stir up a state of chaos, then the idea of a strongman does have some perverse logic to it.

                I don’t think Populism – as a governing force – is ever a good idea. If we are lucky, this hard lesson will be relearned yet again – and quickly.

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  “I don’t think Populism – as a governing force – is ever a good idea.”

                  I’m definitely with you there.

                  Of course, maybe that’s because in our history, it’s been so inextricably tied up with anti-intellectualism.

                  I remember when I attended 7th and 8th grades in Louisiana, we were told that Huey Long was the reason we had free school textbooks. OK. But I’m pretty sure we had free textbooks in all the other states where I went to school, too, and we didn’t need a legendary populist to make that happen…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I see the Sanders movement as being a natural outgrowth of the Occupy movement, which made such a silly fetish out of not having “leaders.”

                  Of course, I do not pretend to be an expert on the Sanders phenomenon. I didn’t study it that closely. I mostly just hoped it would be over soon.

                  But whatever the particulars, the fact is that any populist movement is in a sense anti-leader, in that it is anti-elites…

        2. Doug Ross

          “So what’s the first foreign-policy move he makes? He takes a huge step in the direction of making America weak and irrelevant.”

          So you were guaranteeing great results with TPP? How would you define success? It has to mean more (and better) jobs for Americans first, right? Or is this the “one world, open borders” vision you aspire to?

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Here goes numbers-guy Doug wanting guarantees. No, Doug, I cannot give you a number on how much better off we’d be with TPP, or even guarantee that we’d be better off at all.

            What I can do is tell you, here in the uncertain world in which we all actually live, that pursuing such an agreement was a smarter move than turning our backs on Asia and creating a vacuum for the Chinese…

                1. Richard

                  Trump is against it, Clinton is against it, Sanders is against it, Brad is for it… so Trump screwed up. Is that correct?

      2. Doug Ross

        I don’t pretend to know how global trade should work. Nobody on this blog has a clue of what the correct (define “correct”) course of action should be. I don’t care what they do. The best trade agreements should be based on mutually beneficial goals driven by the free market. We should do what is in the best interests of America.

        As for “and have a wealth of personal connections with people from many cultures across the globe.” Well, that’s why I do support Trump’s desire to crack down on illegal immigration. I hope he builds the wall and deports everyone here illegally and then gives all the people who are here legally looking for status a much easier path to citizenship, What my friends here on H1B visas go through to try and remain or to get into green card programs is asinine. To compound it by allowing illegals any easier path is, to use Brad’s word, “grotesque”.

    1. Bart

      Richard, your question is direct on point and one Zucker should be required to answer.

      Once Zucker made his comment, it is out there and cannot be taken back. He just gave Trump more ammunition in his war with the media and unfortunate for Zucker, it not only can be effective, it will be. CNN had perception problems during the first Gulf War with their reporter and his apparent relation with Saddam Hussein. Over the years, their viewing audience in the US dropped to the lowest ratings among all of the cable news networks and still has ratings problems. But to make a comment like the following is not wise, it is downright stupid and no less offensive than some of the comments Donald Trump has made.

      “One of the things I think this administration hasn’t figured out yet is that there’s only one television network that is seen in Beijing, Moscow, Seoul, Tokyo, Pyongyang, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus — and that’s CNN,” Zucker said. “The perception of Donald Trump in capitals around the world is shaped, in many ways, by CNN. Continuing to have an adversarial relationship with that network is a mistake.”

      That was not subtle, it was a direct threat to Donald Trump by an egotistical little man and whether you approve of Trump or not, making a threat of this nature is totally out of line and only reinforces a popular perception by the general public that the news media, print or broadcast, believes they can shape the news to fit their particular ideology and political preferences. I don’t watch any of the cable news networks because over the years, it is becoming more and more evident reporters no longer report the news, they make the news. MSNBC, FOX, CNN, HLN, and all of the other cable news networks are not worth watching.

      This may elevate Donald Trump’s popularity because he can legitimately tell the American people, “I told you so and here is proof positive the news media can and will manipulate the news.” If Trump becomes more popular with a larger percentage of the voters, it will not bode well for this country. At that point, who will be able to stand up to him and be considered a legitimate critic and taken seriously? Zucker fired an unwise bullet and all it will do is ricochet and maybe hit him and the other cable news networks in the behind.

      The inmates truly are in charge of the asylum.

      1. Richard

        CNN has just jumped the shark as far as I’m concerned. I recently cut the cord with cable/satellite but before I did I think it’d been months if not close to two years since I stopped to hear what was being said on CNN. I think the last time I actually watched anything on it was when the airliner disappeared over the Indian Ocean.

      2. Claus

        Anyone want to bet that the IRS is going to be unusually busy with audits to news reporters and news companies this year?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Maybe the auditors will perform a miracle and find some actual revenues.

          Of course, the news people don’t care about the money side… until we get laid off, of course. That makes it seem more relevant, somehow…

          1. Claus

            If they don’t care about money, then why do all the big names have high priced agents working for them? Will Craig Melvin return to WIS if a slot opens or will he stay with the NBC Today show?

  3. Juan Caruso

    “Et tu, Australia? One of our four closest friends in the world?” Brad, were aware that China has long been the Aussie’s number one trading partner? Of course they should pursue the TPP deal sans U.S.

    To your way of thinking the TPP was a chess move assuring U.S. leadership g lobally? Why are thousands of Asian jobs for Americans now headed to the U.S. under Trump? Leaders must behave like leaders, not appeasers. History has proven again and again that hope and fear are hollow strategies.

    Remember, China lags both the U.S. and Japan in its proportion of U.N dues. Apparently, Dems have had no problem with that situation, nor the fact that the U.S. which pays 22% of the total dues to Obama’s “community of nations” [aka the C.O.N.] has been cast repetitively as the world’s villain, not leader.
    All the while, Dem quack-leaders have lead (choose the best adjective: hopefull, fearful, feckless) such shameful cheerleading.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “All the while, Dem quack-leaders have lead (choose the best adjective: hopefull, fearful, feckless) such shameful cheerleading.”

      Quack-leaders are leading cheers? What’s a quack-leader? Sort of reminds me of the song “Leader of the Pack”.

      1. Norm Ivey

        I saw the Quack Leaders open for the Byrds in 1968 at some club whose name has flown my memory.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    “were aware that China has long been the Aussie’s number one trading partner”

    Yeah, that doesn’t mean much to me. China would be OUR largest trading partner if Canada weren’t right next door.

    By the way, apropos of nothing — Australia definitely isn’t China’s biggest. We are. Australia only comes in sixth. The Germans are fifth.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          By the way, I said that the way Randolph Duke says it when Billy Ray Valentine says, “Randy! That’s like Randy Jackson of the Jackson Five, right?”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yep, I most definitely would have. No question about it.

      And wouldn’t that be wonderful, if the WORST thing about our president was that she had pandered shamelessly to populists on TPP? I’d definitely make that trade…

  5. Scout

    I totally will say up front here that economics is not my thing. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake when I started, reading my economics textbook in hs always made me fall asleep on it. Even though usually with most other textbooky lecture class-type learning stuff, I can make myself focus and generally do alright even when it’s boring to me. So forgive me if this is a stupid question. But economics is my nemesis.

    In Trump world, if we are only going to buy American, why do we even need trade deals at all. I reckon he still wants them to buy our stuff, which seems like such a fair deal for them; I can’t imagine why they’d agree to such. But anyway, he does pretend that he is going to negotiate all these separate bilateral great awesome deals with individual countrys, right? How does that square with only buy American?

    Go ahead, tell it to me like I’m stupid, cos I am, in this arena.

    And also, people voted for him because of his supposed great fabulous business skills. (BTW, Just keep the same caveat for me and business skills). I would guess that allowing the market to find its own balance and having the freedom as a business person to buy the best raw materials at the best price from wherever that possibly might be in the global market would be the most efficient way to do business. So why is the fabulous businessman putting up arbitrary borders and closing down the global market, by insisting on buy American. Would this not potentially, depending on the product, lower quality and increase prices?

    But likely I’m confused.

  6. bud

    Trade is a good thing and trade agreements can benefit everyone. But the TPP didn’t have sufficient protections for labor rights. We can’t just keep shoveling money at big corporations and the super rich without some provisions to help working class people. On this Trump has a point. And Hillary recognized those issues. What concerns me is that Trump will simply cancel the deal and walk away.

  7. Doug Ross

    Anyone who is for trade agreements should take a ride through downtown Lancaster, SC some time.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Kind of looks the way Lowell, MA and Manchester, NH must have looked in the 1960s, no?

      They don’t look that way anymore… they changed with the changing times and circumstances. Especially Manchester.

  8. bud

    Brad, Doug has you pegged. You make these vague, intuition based arguments that ONLY you understand then get all in a snit when someone correctly points out you never actually made an argument. You did that endlessly on Iraq. Now we have an issue that I partially agree with you but your argument is so incoherent I’m inclined to change my mind.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, what I did endlessly on Iraq is give you arguments. You just ignored them.

      We have a cognitive disconnect. Y’all don’t recognize my arguments as arguments. But they’re pretty conclusive. Read back over my words — and go read the explainer I recommended from the NYT.

      And I’m definitely not the only one who understands.You know all those foreign affairs experts who are frozen out of the Trump administration for signing those “Never Trump” letters? I suspect most of them get it. Those who understand the importance of trade, both in terms of economic growth and peace and security, don’t really need arguments.

      For those who don’t the simplest way to explain is, Which is better — a situation in which the United States plays a leading role in alliances that help Asian nations stand independent from Chinese influence, or the opposite: a situation in which China dominates the Pacific Rim, shutting out the United States?

      Of course, I might as well be speaking Mandarin to you and Doug because neither of you see the importance of U.S. leadership in the Free World. Y’all would just as soon America turn its back on the world economically and politically, and (in Doug’s case) array our much-diminished military along the border with Mexico.

      TPP is just a piece — but an important piece — of the Obama administration’s huge strategic move (which was just beginning), the Pivot to Asia — and away from the Mideast, which I would think you and Doug would welcome. TPP was a very positive way of increasing our leverage in the Pacific Rim without the thing you guys hate — using military force.

      It was a very smart strategy, and it’s very stupid to abandon it…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I you want more, I suggest this Brookings piece from 2015, “Why the TPP is the linchpin of the Asia rebalance.

        Here’s what journalists call the nut graf:

        The Obama administration’s policy of “rebalance” toward Asia has been designed to achieve two objectives: to embed the United States more deeply in the world’s most dynamic economic region, and to prevent a regional vacuum to be filled predominantly by China as it continues its rise. The rebalance has rested on three pillars: political, security, and economic….

        In this context, passage of TPP is vital if the rebalance is to be seen by states in the region as being economically relevant. To impress a region that prizes economic growth and openness, the stakes in TPP therefore are high for the administration….

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          If that doesn’t satisfy y’all, then I’m sorry… I’ve repeated myself enough, and I’ve got other stuff I need to do.

          But before I move on, let’s say once again that the point of this overall strategy is (or perhaps I should now say “was”) “to embed the United States more deeply in the world’s most dynamic economic region, and to prevent a regional vacuum to be filled predominantly by China as it continues its rise.”

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Oh, and if any of you other folks would like to jump in and say, “Yeah, Brad — got it,” that would be great. And if you have additional points to make that might make more acceptable “arguments” for Bud and Doug, that would be even greater.

            Because I’m just not connecting somehow…

            1. Norm Ivey

              Yeah, Brad–got it.

              The United States is in real danger of ceding global economic leadership to China. In many measures our economies are essentially equal in size, but because China’s population is so much greater (and poorer) their potential for growth is enormous. They continue to build out their manufacturing base, and their exports significantly exceed their imports. The world will turn to leaders who reach out to them. China is trying to expand their influence while the US is turning inward. When their economic influence spreads, then so does their political influence. And if we abandon our leadership on climate change and energy innovation, there’s little reason for the rest of the world to turn to us except to fight their wars.

            2. Bart

              I’m staying away from this one other than the following comments.

              Well over 15 years ago when I was working for an international company, we discussed the Pacific Rim and how crucial it was for the US to work with the countries involved and develop a new economic trading partnership because of it’s vast untapped potential.

              I am most certainly not an Obama fan but he is right on TPP. China
              will take the leadership role there just as China is moving in on South America, little by little. And when we lose Australia, we need to show some concern.

              Celebrate now, mourn later.

          2. Mark Stewart

            It’s too hard for most people to understand. So they don’t bother.

            Very few people look at anything strategically. It’s one of the innumerable benefits of a liberal education; opening one’s consideration to the greater whole; and the greater good..

            1. Doug Ross

              It’s a shame we have all this profound knowledge of global trade on this blog yet no way to harness it. Understanding the literally billions of variables, cultures, international laws, foreign strategies, global markets is such child’s play that anyone with a degree and a 3.0 GPA in sociology from Middlebury College can develop a rational trade agreement that will further the advancement of all mankind. And that still leaves time to fix the health care system in the U.S.

              Any trade agreement will reward many who don’t earn it and punish many who won’t see it coming. Ask some of the former employees of Springs Industries in Lancaster how they feel about the global economy. That town was destroyed when Springs moved its manufacturing to Brazil.

              1. Claus

                Hmmm… what to fix first, world peace or the US healthcare System? Maybe next week we can cure cancer and if we have time global warming.

              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                Doug, if you’re looking for credentials, you’ll have to look to some of the sources I’ve linked you to, or the folks who actually worked on this treaty and tried to advance it.

                I’m just a reasonably intelligent citizen who listens to people who know more about things than he does and does his best to decide whether it makes sense to him. And the rationale behind TPP makes very good sense to me.

                I don’t think the people chiefly involved in TPP would fit your dismissive description of “anyone with a degree and a 3.0 GPA in sociology from Middlebury College.”

                But as long as you’re sneering at credentials, worry about this: A huge proportion of the real experts on such things are sidelined in this administration because, being the smart people they are, they took a stand against Trump during the election.

                So what you’re left with, to a great extent, is the “Middlebury College” types you mock, taking orders from a truly unhinged, ignorant man in the White House whose whims become policy.

                THERE’S something to worry about…

  9. bud

    Problem is I don’t view the Chinese as an enemy to confront with “leverage” or some other neocon blather. I just don’t thing that way. If TPP helps people prosper great. But I do have concerns. Never crossed my mind that this was a strategy to wage some kind of economic war. That kind of thinking is reckless.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Hegemony is not economic warfare; it is a way of consolidating leadership so that neither a hot nor cold war is required in the future.

      Yes, Bud, this is the way major powers operate on the world stage. It isn’t reckless or feckless or blather.

      1. bud

        Then let’s also include China as part of the agreement. I’m all for agreements but we can’t just ignore real problems with the agreements. That’s what Brad is ignoring.

      2. bud

        Actually what you’re describing IS a cold war if what we’re doing is freezing the Chinese out. Calling it “hegemony” or some other neocon weasel word doesn’t change that.

        leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.
        “Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871”

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