RCEP: China’s strategy to browbeat the world

NS Venkataraman

NS Venkataraman

By NS Venkataraman

CHENNAI, India, 19 November 2020

China has not concealed its ambition to become the global superpower by dominating the world politically, economically, and militarily. To achieve its ambition, China believes that any means, ethical or unethical, would be appropriate. It further thinks that the world opinion is impotent and need not be taken seriously, and can even be ignored with contempt so long as it remains economically and militarily strong.

In the past, China has aggressively occupied Tibet, and in the process massacred thousands of innocent Tibetans. It is laying claims to the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands, with the least care about protests from Japan, Vietnam, Philippines, and others. It is occupying thousands of kilometres of Indian territory and is claiming more. While it is threatening to invade Taiwan — which may well happen sooner than later — it is suppressing liberty and freedom of the people in Hong Kong with brutal force. Several countries have objected to China’s aggressive strategies but China is going ahead, as it is convinced that world opinion matters little.

China very well knows, and probably several countries also know, that China is vulnerable to trade pressure, as its economy is very largely dependent on exploiting the global market. To check China’s greed and ambition, US President Trump started a trade war, which impacted China to some extent. But, Trump did not get much support from other countries, including those in Western Europe.

Now, with most countries becoming weakened due to the Covid-19 crisis, and the US facing humiliating internal conditions due to bitter hate politics between the two parties and in the process getting its global image severely hurt, China obviously thinks that the present is the right time to assert its position and move on with its clever strategies.

With China’s expectation that every country in the world can be tempted by China’s huge market, and knowing very well that no country in the world would challenge China and lose China’s market, China has successfully kicked off RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership).

Countries which have been clearly accusing China in recent times, such as Australia, Japan, and Philippines, have joined the RCEP with the clear objective of enhancing trade with China.

Only India has refrained from signing the RCEP with the courage of its conviction and confidence that it can protect its interests and that it has alternate options without joining RCEP.

In recent months, we have been repeatedly hearing about QUAD (The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), where India, Japan, Australia, and the US have formed an alliance which is widely perceived to be an anti-China alliance. The Chinese and Australian governments have been exchanging bitter statements. Japan even went to the extent of providing special incentives to Japanese companies to withdraw the investments from China. Now, Australia, Japan, and twelve other countries who have certainly expressed doubts and misgivings about China’s intentions in recent times have joined RCEP. What to make of this?

Obviously, these countries seem to think that economic interests and political interests are different matters. They do not seem to understand that it would be a naïve idea to separate economics and politics in devising the policies for any country.

China has ensured that its interests would be protected even if the trade war with the US would continue, by successfully enticing fourteen countries to sign the RCEP. China would certainly dump its goods on these countries, and most of these countries would not be able to get benefits from entering the Chinese market, to the extent that China would gain by “invading” the markets of these countries.

Perhaps countries like Australia, Japan, and Korea, which are all reasonably well developed, seem to be thinking that China would not be able to use their countries as dumping grounds for its goods and services. This remains to be seen.

Even a casual observer cannot but get an impression that countries like Japan and Australia have fallen into China’s trap. Certainly, China would not give up its claims on the South China Sea or Senkaku Island, in spite of the affected countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Philippines joining RCEP.

They are bound to learn at great cost soon that sacrificing political interests for the sake of economic interests is an unwise gamble and short-sighted policy.

With several weak countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and a few others already falling into China’s trap, China now seems to feel confident that its strategies and approach have been further vindicated by its clever and successful RCEP strategy.

By joining this RCEP, Japan and Australia, who are part of the QUAD, have belittled themselves and have virtually accepted that China is big brother. And in the process, they have made the QUAD Accord a laughingstock, which virtually mean that they themselves have become a laughingstock in the eyes of the world.


About the author

NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.

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