Why is Biden hesitating to challenge China as East Asia's major trade partner? | TheHill – The Hill

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One of the many critiques of President BidenJoe BidenPoll: Voters split on whether they believe Biden was trying to score political points with Afghanistan withdrawal Kansas approves using M in federal funds to increase nurses’ pay To infinity and beyond: What will it take to create a diverse and representative judiciary? MORE’s mismanagement of what became America’s unceremonious and chaotic exit from Afghanistan was his misplaced insistence that he was bound by the Trump administration’s agreement to withdraw all American troops from that country by May 2021. Many analysts have pointed out that Biden did not hesitate to countermand other Trump national security and foreign policy decisions, including returning to the Paris Climate Accords and seeking to restore the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  

Much like his insistence that he had to abide by the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, Biden also has not reversed Trump’s 2017 executive order, issued on his first day in office, to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP was a comprehensive trade agreement that included 11 countries. Of them, seven — Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru — are American treaty partners. The remaining four — Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam — all have excellent relations with Washington. Most notably, however, the pact did not include China. The TPP was a signature Obama administration accomplishment, and signaled that America’s so-called pivot to Asia was as substantive as it was rhetorical. 

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Congress did not approve the agreement, as both then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhy is Biden hesitating to challenge China as East Asia’s major trade partner? Capitol Police warning of potential for violence during rally backing rioters: report The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Democrats face headwinds on .5 trillion plan, debt ceiling MORE (R-Ky.) and then-Minority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerWhy is Biden hesitating to challenge China as East Asia’s major trade partner? Retail group backs minimum corporate tax, increased IRS enforcement House Democrats outline plan for transition to clean electricity MORE (D-N.Y.), the latter bowing to the wishes of many Democrats who were reflecting trade union concerns, both opposed the deal. Indeed, the final four candidates in the 2016 presidential primaries — Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money — The Democratic divide on taxes The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Biden airs frustration over unvaccinated Americans Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill MORE (I-Vt.), Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhy is Biden hesitating to challenge China as East Asia’s major trade partner? Howard Stern rips vaccine opponents: ‘F— their freedom, I want my freedom to live’ New Hampshire Democrat wins GOP-held state House seat MORE, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid Why is Biden hesitating to challenge China as East Asia’s major trade partner? Chris Wallace on lawmakers who contested Biden’s election: I don’t want to hear ‘their crap’ MORE (R-Texas) and, of course, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTo infinity and beyond: What will it take to create a diverse and representative judiciary? Biden seeks to rebound from brutal August Mary Trump blasts uncle’s plans to provide commentary on boxing match on 9/11 anniversary: ‘Disgraceful’ MORE — all opposed ratifying the TPP in its current form. If ever there was a signal to East Asia that the United States was beginning to look inward, the bipartisan opposition to TPP ratification certainly was it.

Trump’s decision to back out of the TPP created an opening for China. Beijing quickly reassembled the nations that had agreed to join the TPP and together they created what now is called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Essentially, China replaced the United States as the leading organizer of Asian free trade. At the same time, it was estimated that the opportunity cost of American withdrawal from the TPP amounted to a loss of real GDP of 0.76 percent, amounting to some $107 billion, resulting from a decrease in its total exports of 8.43 percent and a decrease in total imports of 6.31 percent.  

As vice president, Biden supported the TPP. Yet during the 2020 Democratic primaries, Biden backed away from his earlier position, only going so far as to argue the need for renegotiating the agreement to satisfy union interests and to allow for greater environmental protections. Since he assumed office, Biden has done very little to indicate that he is serious about America’s re-entering the TPP under any circumstances. And while Washington dithers, China strengthens its hand as it seeks to become East Asia’s leading trading partner. 

Indeed, it is noteworthy that Japan announced last week that the United Kingdom will meet later this month with members of the CPTPP, including China, to discuss London’s application to join the agreement. The British desire to join the CPTPP reflects its efforts to enhance its economic profile in the Asia-Pacific in the aftermath of its withdrawal from the European Union.

Trump’s rash withdrawal from TPP was a boon for Beijing, whose quest for world economic leadership is at least as pronounced as its military buildup. Biden’s hesitancy regarding the agreement simply solidifies China’s economic position in the region. 

If Biden is serious about countering Beijing’s efforts to dominate East Asia, he should take note of Britain’s initiative and take whatever steps are necessary for America to rejoin the CPTPP, even if China is now a member. Doing so would complement Washington’s announced plans to enhance its military deterrent in the region and would underscore to its friends, allies and partners that it remains a reliable partner at a time when the Afghanistan fiasco has shaken their faith in America’s credibility.  

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.