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RCEP-the mega trade deal may have a short shelf-life as US mounts pressure on China

Chinese President Xi Jinping

The signatories of the much-hyped Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) are keenly watching the US’ moves towards China. Amid the raging debate over the origin of Covid 19, the US is moving fast towards building international support to isolate China.

Of the four QUAD members—US, India, Japan and Australia, the latter two countries are also signatories of RCEP. Unsurprisingly, China has fiercely opposed the idea of QUAD.

Also read: Has Japan become the fulcrum of resistance to China in the Indo-Pacific?

Besides, the new report that Biden’s intelligence agencies are currently preparing, is expected to be ready by August end. The report, which could directly put the blame on China along with the issue of human rights violation in the Xinjiang region will have a damning effect on Beijing’s economy.

Depending on the content of the report, the US may even initiate the process of imposing sanctions against China.

“The RCEP becomes obsolete in case of the US-China competition escalating. If the US imposes sanctions against China, other RCEP members will not be in a position to carry out trade with Beijing,” Satoru Nagao, fellow at Hudson Institute told India Narrative.

The mega trade deal was signed in November last year between 15 countries — China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei. India, which was part of the negotiations, pulled out at the last minute.

In May, the European Parliament decided to halt investment agreements with China due to its record of human rights abuse. For Chinese President Xi Jinping, the in-principle agreement of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) signed between the EU and China was considered a big success.

Also read: India calls for a serial probe into the origin of Covid-19—opposes an eye-wash investigation

“When the RCEP was envisaged and even signed last year, the geopolitical scenario was different. Today the global dynamics present a different picture and doubts will arise over the fate of the trade pact,” DK Srivastava, chief policy adviser, EY India told India Narrative.

Nagao added that the US, which has proposed an in-person Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — QUAD meeting in September, will try and gain support from the other core members of this informal group in isolating China. “One of the main reasons for China being able to keep the cost of production low for all these years is also due to human rights violations, especially in the Xinjiang region. This issue is likely to play up,” Nagao said.

He pointed out that the environmental issue in relation to China’s rare earth mining is also coming to the fore.  “China can ignore the environment issue in its endeavour to intensify mining of rare earth and sell it cheap,” Nagao pointed out.

Meanwhile the Global Times in an editorial piece said that the US is trying to “build a long-term strategic public opinion and political containment against China by tracing the Covid 19 origins.” It also said that US President Joe Biden’s overall response to the pandemic has been no better than the Trump administration.

The editorial piece noted that the Biden administration is fully copying the Trump administration's line of political hooliganism: using every means to frame China.