EU, U.S. should engage with China instead of confronting it over RCEP
Ken Moak

Editor's Note: Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at the university level for 33 years. He co-authored the book "China's Economic Rise and Its Global Impact" in 2015. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The leader of the European People's Party, the largest party in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber might be speaking for the majority of EU politicians when he warned the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) recently inked by the 10-member ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand should be a "wake-up call" for the EU and U.S., and urged the two sides to unite against China.

For example, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jim Risch shared Weber's concern about China's growing influence in the Asia Pacific and beyond.

While Borrell and Risch were not insinuating the RCEP is "bad" for the West as Weber did, both agreed that an alliance is necessary to deal with China's alleged "misbehavior" regarding "unfair" trade or economic practices; reneging on the "One Country, Two Systems" architecture on Hong Kong; incarcerating Uygurs in "concentration camps"; "bullying" in the South China Sea; and trying to "destroy" the Western way of life or values.

However, the EU and U.S. will not be able to stifle China's rise because the allegations against China are just that; allegations without credible proof. As the Vietnam and Iraqi Wars attested, wars based on lies or misinformation can only lead to disaster.

The charge of China incarcerating Uygurs was first propagated by two U.S. officials in 2018 – Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver and representative to the United Nations Guy McDougall. They, respectively, claimed that retraining schools were concentration camps and over a million Uygurs were incarcerated. The two officials never released their "credible reports" supporting the claims, but the mainstream Western media and political establishment went with and even exaggerated the charges anyway.

China passed the national security law for Hong Kong to better implement its "One Country, Two Systems" policy. The law was passed to regain economic, political and social stability that was destroyed by the violent "pro-democracy" protests. And the majority of Hong Kong residents applauded the law, according to the city's news reports.

Many would even argue that Hong Kong might be freer today than when it was under British colonial rule because anti-government groups were allowed to protest. Under British rule, protests were suppressed with force as was the case in the early 1900s and 1960s.

Moreover, there is some truth in the suggestion that the West cares nothing about Hong Kong people. The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong turned away four activists asking for asylum, using the lame excuse that they did not ask for it on U.S. soil. To that end, one can be forgiven for suggesting the true reason behind the West's opposition to the national security law is the loss of a venue to destabilize China.

On the accusation that China is "bullying" smaller claimants in the South China Sea, the country always called for dialogue to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution and promoted joint development of the region's resources to spur economic growth. And there was never any "freedom of navigation" issues until the U.S. navy sailed intentionally tried to provoke China by sailing within its 12-mile exclusive economic zone. China, in fact, had no reason to oppose FNOPs because the majority of the estimated over $3 trillion trade transiting the waters belong to it.

With respect to Weber's claim that China is threatening the EU's way of life or values, why would it want to that? China does not care about the EU's way of life and or values, the Asian country only wants to adopt an ideology that suits its history and institutions.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and leaders of other countries attend the signing ceremony of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement after the fourth RCEP Summit held via video link, November 15, 2020. /Xinhua

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and leaders of other countries attend the signing ceremony of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement after the fourth RCEP Summit held via video link, November 15, 2020. /Xinhua

The fact of the matter is China is the largest trade partner for the 10-member ASEAN and the other four RCEP members. Two-way trade between China and the 14 countries exceeded $1.2 trillion in 2019. That figure will surely grow when the FTA takes effect in 2021. Accounting for over 50 percent of the RCEP GDP, China's influence on and beyond the region can only grow.

Moreover, not everyone in the EU or U.S. wants confrontation with China. Greece and Italy, for example, joined China's Belt and Road Initiative for the purpose of improving their economic plight. Foreign policy realists and business groups in the U.S. are coming out in droves to urge Joe Biden to reset the U.S.-China relationship derailed by Trump's reckless trade and technology wars against China. For example, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged Biden to make rapprochement with China.

Even assuming the EU and the new Biden administration do decide to form such an alliance to counter China, what can it do since neither side has an appetite for war? Stopping trade with China is not realistic, particularly for economic powerhouse Germany because China is its biggest trade partner.

Also, surging COVID-19 infections in Europe and the U.S. are sinking their economies further, requiring access to external markets. China, the only major economy expected to enjoy positive growth in 2020 and beyond, might be the only country that could pull the EU, U.S. and world economies out of the doldrums.

That said, the RCEP could sideline the EU and U.S. in the Asia Pacific. Staunch U.S. allies Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand as well as the other participants will likely focus on inter-regional trade, pushing the EU and U.S. into "second place." Equally important is the RCEP has a different standard on rules of origin, labor standards and other trade barometers.

Might that be the reason why the EU is wary of the free trade agreement; Asian countries writing the trade rules for them instead of following the dictates of the West?

The EU and U.S. should form an alliance on how to engage China instead of confronting it. Trump will testify that declaring wars on China for no reason other than to keep it in its place is "wrong-headed."

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