RCEP, START and Germany´s Indo-Pacific strategy

RCEP, START and Germany´s Indo-Pacific strategy

There are five interesting events in US-Eurasian relations: First the rejection by the Trump-USA of Putin’s offer to extend the initial START contract by 1 year and Putin’s declaration at the Valdai Club that Russia is now planning a military alliance with China and that he had no worries if China rearms itself and, like the USA and Russia, acquires 1,500 ICBMs. Second, Biden’s election victory, which at first did not result in any obligatory congratulations from Beijing and Moscow, especially since Trump got 8 million more votes than in the last election and is now aiming for a revival of his politics in 2024, with a Republican majority in the Senate and the fundamental opposition of the Republicans, he will try to paralyze and boycott Biden’s politics. The third significant event was the signing of the Pan-Asian Free Trade Area Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which China is now using to sell itself a a pioneer in matters of reliability, free trade, multilateralism and shared prosperity like the BRI’s New Silk Road. In spite of all critical consideration of the Chinese motives, it can be said that the other Asians no longer want to wait for the USA despite Biden’s victory and don´t see the USA as a reliable partner anymore. Otherwise, they would have waited until Biden could possibly revert to the old Obama’s plans of two free trade blocs against China, the transatlantic TTIP and the transpacific TPP revived, especially since under the leadership of Japan there was a successive smaller TPP without the USA waiting for the USA to join it again after Trump and hoped for the USA to take a leading role. This apparently is not only because of the Covid crisis, China’s victory over Covid and the reboot of China´s economy, that was essential for the Asians that they joined RECP, but that the USA is still looking for some time internally to cope with the Covid crisis and especially the USA is no longer perceived by most Asians as Europeans as a reliable power in economic policy and beyond,  as well as there is domestic political resistance in the USA against TPP and even if a new TPP should come about, this could be terminated with the next election of a new US president in 2024, like the Iran deal or TPP and TTIP under Trump.

That is why the pro-Western Asians, above all Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, regard China as a more reliable partner in terms of economic policy, as a force for trade and multilateralism. Whereby the western allies within RCEP, above all Japan, did this to send a signal and clear message to the USA: If you want to be expelled from Asia, if you don’t want to enter into a reliable consensus between Democrats and Republicans on new transpacific free trade that will survive a Trump, you will become economically isolated. We don´t wait forever. So far, NAFTA and now the planned free trade agreement between the EU and the Latin American Mercusor were the largest free trade agreements in the world, but RECP has now completely surpassed these dimensions.

„Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, China and the 10 members of ASEAN signed a regional trade deal on Sunday covering nearly a third of the global economy, wrapping up eight years of negotiations following the withdrawal of India.The 15 signatories to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership reached the agreement, aimed at cutting tariffs and establishing common rules in areas such as e-commerce and intellectual property, during a virtual leaders’ summit.RCEP — also including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea — will create Asia’s biggest free trade zone encompassing about a third of the world’s population.

It will be Japan’s first trade deal with both China, its largest trading partner, and South Korea as negotiations for a trilateral pact have yet to be concluded.Speaking to reporters after signing the deal, trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the 15 countries were seeking to wrap up domestic procedures quickly and put the pact into effect “as quickly as possible.”

“Through the tariff removals, I believe there’ll be a major impact on improving Japan’s exports and making the region’s supply chains more efficient,” Kajiyama said. “I strongly believe we are building free and fair economic rules through introducing new rules on data free flows and the banning of demands for technology transfers, as well as the protection of intellectual property.”

Supporters of the trade pact, which covers 2.2 billion people with a combined GDP of $26.2 trillion, said it will bolster pandemic-weakened economies by reducing tariffs, strengthening supply chains with common rules of origin, and codifying new e-commerce rules.

“The completion of negotiations is a strong message affirming ASEAN’s role in supporting the multilateral trade system,” Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said as he hosted the virtual signing ceremony. The agreement will contribute to “developing supply chains that have been disrupted due to the pandemic as well as supporting economic recovery,” he said.

Negotiators pushed the deal across the finish line after India surprised participants late last year by abandoning the agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he pulled out over concerns about how RCEP would affect the livelihoods of Indians, particularly the most vulnerable. India, though, will be allowed to rejoin the trade pact.

“The clause allowing India to join at a later date is symbolic and shows China’s desire to build economic bridges with the region’s third-largest economy,” said Shaun Roache, Asia Pacific chief economist at S&P Global Ratings.

Whether RCEP changes regional dynamics in favor of China depends on the U.S. response, experts said. The agreement underscores how U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to withdraw from a different Asia Pacific trade pact — the Trans-Pacific Partnership — diminished America’s ability to offer a counterbalance to China’s growing regional economic influence.

That challenge will shift to President-elect Joe Biden. Still uncertain is how the Biden team will approach trade deals and whether it tries to re-enter the 11-nation TPP.

RCEP was expected to fall significantly short of the revised TPP or Japan’s trade deal with the European Union in cutting tariffs.

Despite RCEP’s historic size, it is surpassed by other major trade deals in the level of market access. The deal will eliminate tariffs on 91% of goods compared with 99.9% for the revised TPP.“


The big thing at RCEP is that India didn´t join it. The fear of Chinese hegemony, the protection of its own industries, especially its dairy farmers, service branch, China´s aggressive assertiveness in the Himalaya region and Ladakh, Modi´s more protectionist ideology prevented this. India has also not joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) AIIB), one of the backbones of China´s New Silkroad, resists the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and has initiated its own Silkroad by the Asian- African Economic Corridor- in cooperation with Japan and the USA. The fourth interesting aspect in US-Eurasian relations is the upgrading of the Quad. While China had undeniable success in free trade policy with RECP, the military forces against it are also regrouping. While at the economic front there are undeniable contradictions between a Trump- and Biden administration, at the military front the USA is pushing bipartisan ahead-. be it the increase of the defense budget or building of military alliances in Asia, especially the Quad, a forerunner-front for some sort of an Asian NATO. While there won´t be a US-led super command integrating all allied forces, the Quad is already not a loose alliance anymore.

Malabar exercise that upsets China is a tectonic shift in power balance | Analysis

India has already asked its navy to start prepping to counter the China’s navy and change its orientation from diplomacy to deployment

Warships of four major Indo-Pacific democracies – the United States, Japan, Australia and India – will manoeuvre together in the Malabar naval exercise off the Goa coast on Tuesday, the second round of the war games by the QUAD countries over the last month that marks the evolution of the informal ‘QUAD’ partnership into a potential strategic alliance.

India had invited Australia to this year’s war games for the first time in more than a decade, a move that has angered President Xi Jinping’s Communist Party of China government to an extent that its mouthpiece, China Daily chided the Australian government for “aggressively sending warships to China’s doorsteps” as part of Exercise Malabar. India and Australia, however, stayed firm, a sharp contrast from 2007 when several countries that had participated in the naval exercise eventually backed down in face of China’s protests.

But President Xi’s aggressive approach has united the member countries of the four-nation alliance. For years, he had been pushing Japan over his claim to the Senkaku islands, threatening Australia with a trade war and talking nuke missiles to the US navy that made its presence felt in the South China Sea. China crossed the line with New Delhi this year when PLA soldiers attempted to seize control of Indian territory in Ladakh, setting up a face-off at the border that has stretched for more than six months in Ladakh and is expected to continue into next year.

Also Watch l Malabar Exercise 2020: Navies of India, US, Japan & Australia in action 

Beijing’s approach in Ladakh has convinced India that it needs to be prepared for similar Chinese aggression in the high seas. People familiar with the matter said the government has already asked the Indian Navy to start prepping to counter the PLA Navy and change its orientation from diplomacy to deployment. The focus should be on the navy developing the capacity to be deployed from the Gulf of Eden to the Malacca Strait, and beyond.

This year’s Malabar exercise – that mirrors the deepening strategic ties within QUAD – is one step. That is why, a national security planner said, the presence of the USS Nimitz strike group and India’s INS Vikramaditya at the exercise reflects the determination of the four countries to draw red lines for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy.

“It is a tectonic shift in the regional power balance,” he said.

It was in this context that Australia’s Defence Minister Linda Reynolds recently described the naval manoeuvres not only as a demonstration of the strategic trust the four democracies held in each other but also “strengthened our collective ability to contribute to regional security”.

Australia’s participation in the Malabar war games is considered significant given its geopolitical role in the Indo-Pacific region. Besides, Canberra is an advanced NATO alliance nation and has a military collaboration with the US and strategic security relations with Japan.

Officials said the four-nation alliance could be expected to expand to other countries in one form or the other. For one, France is showing keen interest in QUAD’s move to secure sea lanes and freedom of navigation from the Gulf of Aden to western coast of the US.

The barrage of commentaries in the Chinese communist party’s many mouthpieces that have attacked New Delhi’s invitation to Australia reflect the unease at the joint military drills.

“Despite the drill jointly participated by India, the US, Australia and Japan, experts noted that such an ill-intentioned attempt to corner China is a hollow bluff, and China will not be disrupted by India’s irrationality or US interference,” the Global Times, a tabloid run by the communist party’s lead mouthpiece China Daily, asserted. It has also reported on the possibility of Germany’s interest in getting involved in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Indian government will face no problems in taking forward ties with the US under the Joe Biden administration because of the strong element of bipartisan support for the bilateral relationship, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Tuesday.

“I am very confident that we will pick up where we left off (with the Donald Trump administration), we have done that over the last four administrations,” Jaishankar said while participating in an online discussion organised by the think tanks Centre for International Governance Innovation and Gateway House.

“I think that will be the case as well here and I say that because within the American politics, it’s not just that we deal with the administration of the day, we also tend to deal with the Congress. American politics by its nature has very strong elements of bipartisanship,” he said.

President-elect Biden is “not a stranger to India or to the relationship” and India has dealt with him in his former roles as vice president in the Barack Obama administration and as ranking Democratic member and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jaishankar said.

“He (Biden) is very much part of this period when Indo-American relations underwent a radical transformation, which I reasonably date back to former President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000,” he said.

“You had four presidents and you really cannot find more dissimilar people – Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. But one issue and one relationship to which all of them were committed was the Indian relationship,” he added.

There is a “very strong element of structural predictability and a certain ballast” in the India-US relationship, Jaishankar said, adding that both countries are natural partners.“


However, if one looks at the present Sino-Indian border conflict and the rising assertiveness and nationalism on both sides, it is hard to imagine, at least for the foreseeable future, a harmonious Eurasian Heartland cooperation between China, Russia and India to exist. Even if Russia tried to mediate and support India’s membership in the permanent UNSC, with China blocking all these efforts, raising doubts about a possible Eurasian world, cooperation remains quite unlikely. And while Russia has also good contacts with India beyond the BRICS and the SCO, it also didn´t like the idea that Modi accepted the invitation to Trump´s anti-Chinese G 11 idea which wanted to split the Eurasianism by the formation of an anti-China bloc including Russian, India, South Korea and Australia. While Putin didn´t react to Trump´s offer, India wanted to see what Trump can offer against China and Pakistan and also intensifies the cooperation within the Quad. While the Trump- USA offered India a G 11 participation, it also seems to propose more formal military ties. In his article “US seeks formal alliance similar to Nato with India, Japan and Australia, State Department official say “published 1 Sep, 2020 in the South China Morning Post Robert Delaney writes:

“Washington’s goal is to get countries in the Indo-Pacific region to work together as a bulwark against ‘a potential challenge from China’, says the US official. He says the four nations are expected to meet in Delhi sometime this autumn.“

As the world is in a transition period to a more multipolar world and a struggle between the weakened USA and the rising China, strategic balancing becomes the new normal as Indian General Asthana once claimed.

Therefore and after the rejection by the Trump-USA for his prolongation of START, Putin now threatens the West and the rest of Asia with a Chinese-Russian military alliance. However, the question would be what Putin could offer China. How should he support China in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, Taiwan? Would he send an aircraft carrier against the USA or some vessels or airforce or threaten the USA with his ICBMs or start a conflict in Europe to overstretch the US military? Or deliver oil and gas if the Malakka Street should be blocked for China´s energy imports? But therefore some new pipelines have to be built and that will take some time. At the moment Putin´s declaration seems more than a pressure instrument than a real plan, even if China and Russia want a multipolar world, but Russia doesn´t want to become a colony of China..

The new and fifth moment is the Indo-Pacific strategy of the German government which shall become the blueprint for a European Indo-Pacific strategy. However, the term Indo-Pacific was first created by the USA and the Trump administration. It replaced the old geographical concept of the Asia-Pacific. Under Trump the Indo- Pacific strategy pronounced an economic  decoupling and containment strategy against China. The German Indo-Pacific strategy pronounces that decoupling and containment and confrontation with China was not desirable. Germany had to see that Asia is the new center of world politics and the world economy and that Germany had to realize this. Germany should reduce its dependence from China, diversify its economic and political relations and focus on the ASEAN which were also the frontrunner for RCEP in Asia.

This also has concrete German experience as a background as Germany and the EU are pushing free trade agreements, be it CETA with Canada, JEFTA with Japan, the Latin American Mercusor, and an EU free trade area with Africa and its newly formed African continental free trade area has recently been discussed. But when Modi-India withdrew from the RCEP, Merkel-Germany proposed an EU-India free trade agreement on behalf of the EU, which was also rejected by Modi-India, although Germany and India have no Himalaya conflicts. As a democracy and because of its protectionist voters, India can never become the ruthless economic powerhouse in Asia as China is. Conversely, the conversation about an EU-China free trade agreement has been going on for a long time, but so far Germany and the EU are backing away, probably because they fear China’s economic size and clout and unfair methods and it is currently not even enough to reach an investment protection agreement. Therefore, for the time being, the ASEAN countries are the first choice left. In addition, the USA and the WTO wanted to focus on bilateral and not multilateral agreements thanks to Trump’s America First protectionism, and both Biden and Modi are under democratic pressure from parts of their often protectionist voters. China, on the other hand, as a one-man dictatorship, can present itself as a reliable supermarket, an economic powerhouse that has left the Covid crisis behind and does not have to take any domestic political considerations into account can portray itself as an exemplary and contract-loyal Pacta sunt servanda freetrader and multilateralist.

While RCEP has just excluded labor and environmental protection conditions, the German Indo-Pacific Strategy wants that Germany must use the EU internal market leverage to strengthen a value-oriented, ecological, multilateral policy and pursue an inclusive approach, also towards China, which however should not be understood as the main center of all German foreign policy perspectives.

As an export nation, Germany had also to support the freedom of navigation in the open seas and even militarily support this goal and like-minded allies. In the German version Indo-Pacific doesn´t mean a defined geographical area, but a geopolitical and geoeconomic space. While the French government already had a Indo-Pacific strategy and already send some military ships to this region, , even to the Malaba drills, Great Britain is building a new naval base in Singapur along the already existing US naval base. German defense minister Anngeret Kramp- Karrenbauer already proposed to send German military ships to the Indo- Pacific and to build and support alliances with Indo-Pacific partners, especially Australia. The German government wants to push its Indo-Pacific strategy within the EU and to integrate it with the French Indo-Pacific strategy to design an EU Indo-Pacific strategy. NATO for the first time declared China as a new challenge for the transatlantic military alliance. It remains to be seen if Germany´s plans for an Indo-Pacific strategy will see a unilateral approach which is unlikely or a European pillar, militarily relying on Frech and German vessels, maybe even with British as it seems unlikely that a Global NATO will appear or NATO extends its reach to the Indo-Pacific. As European ships in the Indo-Pacific are more a symbolic act than real militarily decisive hard power, it remains to be seen if they will join the Quad drills or the Malabar maneuvers and the East Europeans won´t like that idea too much as they perceive this as a distraction from the European NATO front against Russia and have to be convinced by other incentives for NATO. Another big project will be a EU-ASEAN free trade agreement after the EU already signed FTAs with Japan, Singapur and Vietnam and is negotiating with Indonesia at the moment.

Due to Trumpism, in the Biden-USA the old engagement policy is over and will be replaced by congagement, while it is still debated what this term means in reality, how much the elements of engagement and containment will be pronounced. As Madeleine Albright already proposed a Community of Democracies and John Mc Cain wanted a League of Democracies, Biden spoke of an Alliance of Democracies. However, in the past, these mostly were pipe dreams which never materialized and critics think that this value-based approach prevents cooperation of the USA with non-democratic states as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia or Turkey and would narrow the scope of US influence and alliance building.

However, it remains to be seen if the German words and deeds fit together. An article in the Falungong newspaper Epoch Times, one oft he most popular Chinese opposition organs which wants to topple the CP China perceives the new German  Indo-Pacific strategy not as a real cut and diversification of Germany´s and Europe´s dependence from China but see it more as a continuation of the former appeasement and engagement policy. It asks whether this strategy can be taken seriously while BASF, Daimler, BMW and Siemens are expanding their investments in China and not redirecting it to other regions and countries

. https://www.epochtimes.de/china/deutschland-und-seine-indo-pazifik-strategie-der-scharfe-bruch-mit-china-findet-nicht-statt-a3332767.html

However, this is the point of view of the Falungong. The Chinese opposition is however split. While veterans like Wei Jingsheng or Pastor Fo didn´t want the CP China to collapse, but to exert pressure on it-even with Trump´s trade war- they wanted the establishment of an opposition party in China next to a reformed CP China. Wei Jingsheng and other dissidents also supported Trump as he stopped the engagement policy of the previous US governments from Clinton to George W. Bush jr to Obama, but never meddled into US elections. Wei Jingsheng and other Chinese democrats saw them as business-orientated establishment lobbyists of the Wall Street and that human rights, democracy and rule of law was just a barter deal for US business interests in cooperation with the CP China to fool the dissidents and the American freedom-loving people that releases and exiles a few opposition activists to make their profits and deals with the CP China. Therefore Wei Jingsheng as Pastor Fo supported Trump in the beginning as he confronted China in a direct way, hadn´t to take the Wallstreet and big business interests in account as a saturated billionaire. Pastor Fo was even becoming a member of the Committee on the Present Danger: China with Steve Bannon and Kyle Bass. But then the Falungon and the exiled dissident oligarch Guo Wengui supported Trump together with Steve Bannon and started a campaign against „Beijing“-Biden and his son Hunter, threatened other Chinese opponents with murder, the Chinese exile opposition was split again into Trump supporters and neutral persons which were accused of being Chinese spies. The Falungong after the „9 Commentaries about the CP China“ also published a new book“How The Specter of Communism Is Ruling Our World“. While the Falungong and his leader Li Hongzhi wanted to topple the CP China as Guo Wengui wants, the new book also expands its images of enemies to everybody who wants a welfare state, a New Green Deal and climate and environment protection, fights against racism and sexism, etc. The spirit and the specter of communism, therefore, is in all democrats, liberals, moderate conservatives, greens and ecologists, women’s rights activists, trade unionists and leftists- Falungong and Guo Wengui became a right-winged, Trumpist supporter camp which meddles into Western democracies. And therefore one has to take these comments into consideration.

Definitely, the German Indo-Pacific strategy is not about toppling the CP China, but that was very likely also not Trump´s goal. And while the Falungong and Li Hongzhi as Guo Wengui want to topple the CP China and be the next leaders of China, the Indo-Pacific strategy of the German government of course doesn´t comply with their standards. And Germany and Europe won´t support Trump as he saw his enemy also in Germany and the EU, supported the break up of the EU, hyped Brexit, was questioning the transatlantic relations and NATO which was applauded by Beijing and Moscow. Therefore the comment by the Falungong might have a core of truth, but the mentioned „equidistance of Germany and the EU towards Beijing and Washington“ is a result and lesson from Trumpism which still exists and the USA becoming an unreliable partner and the rest of Asia think s similar as RCEP shows.

A leading German sinologist evaluates the impact of the German Indo-Pacific strategy as follows:

“German politics is also a mystery, but one that is less difficult to understand. In this country there is simply the dispute between morality (Greens who are no longer allowed to enter China because they have made Hong Kong and Xinjiang their main agenda) and realpolitik (economic interests that see that without China there would not be much going on here in many areas ). In the case of China, morals are also joined by dissatisfied economic leaders who see that not all blooming dreams have come true. They are not that moral at all, just dissatisfied. It is not clear who will win. The outcome of the next federal election is exciting in this respect too. As usual, German foreign policy will probably remain toothless for known reasons. „

In the case of a black-green federal government, this conflict between values ​​/ morals and interests / economic interests will probably also be on the agenda. Since the Greens may get significantly more votes than in the SPD / Greens coalition under Schröder / Fischer, they will also have greater weight when setting topics. Schröder, who wanted to Eurasize the G7 to the G9 with China and Russia in exchange for a German, Brasilian and Indian seat in the permanent UN Security Council, always treated China and Russia policy as a top priority from which Fischer had to stay out. Schröder also thought about lifting the arms embargo and no longer emphasized human rights politics, but as boss of the bosses, economic interests and the rule of law dialogue. This won´t be the same under a Habeck / Baerbrock. Still, China has some lures to offer the Greens in terms of environmental policy that may softened them on human rights issues. Especially since the German Indo-Pacific strategy alone will not achieve much if it does not also become an EU Indo-Pacific strategy.

However, the German mainstream newspaper FAZ calls the German Indo-Pacific strategy a „warning signal to China“. As the RCEP, India´s approachment to the Quad and Putin´s remarks at the Valdai Club , there seem to be more warning signals from all sides in the transition period for a more multipolar world.

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