Global Review

RECP, START and Germany´s Indo-Pacific Strategy

November 18, 2020
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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 Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RECP), 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.

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Cabinet Secretariat / Via Kyodo

Despite 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 RECP, 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 big thing at RECP 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 at the moment. 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.(…)

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.“

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 Chjina 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 RECP in Asia. But also use the leverage for strengthening a value-based, ecological, multilateral policy and have even an inclusive approach towards China, but not as main centre of all German foreign policy perspective. 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 Malaba 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 of the 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.

However, the German mainstream newspaper FAZ calls the Indo-Pacific strategy a „warning signal to China“. As the RECP, 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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