The headline focused on an agreement between President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China–particulalry where the relationship has been frosty, of late. (No descending staircase? Conflict on the rope line? Those count as diplomatic slight, and not a great start.)
But an even bigger issue is in play. Will Obama get his trade deal, the TPP, a major diplomatic endeavor that faces skepticism in Congress as well as from his chosen Democratic heir-apparent, Senator Hillary Clinton.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is viewed in Asia as the handiwork of Mr. Obama in particular, especially since the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly backed it when she was Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, has renounced her support. If Congress fails to pass it, Asian diplomats said, China will emerge as a victor.
“It will be a political disaster and play into the Chinese narrative that China is a geopolitical fact, whereas the U.S. presence is the consequence of a geopolitical calculation which could change and thus is not reliable,” said Bilahari Kausikan, the ambassador at large for Singapore.
In practical terms, the United States would lose the chance to shape the economic future of the region, allowing China to forge ahead with its “Sino-centric economic order,” which includes a multibillion-dollar project to build a new Silk Road linking Asia to Europe.
Consider further the implications and particular interests that various Asian countries have in TPP: Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, not to mention Australia, New Zealand, and small-island states such as Fiji, Vanuatu, or Kiribati.