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Factoring RCEP and TPP: China, India and the Politics of Regional Integration and Coexistence

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  • June 21, 2013
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Amb (retd) R. Rajagopalan
    Discussants: Dr. GVC Naidu, Amb (retd) J.C. Sharma, S.K. Mohanty, Durgesh K. Rai

    Highlights of the Paper

    Dr. Jagannath P. Panda discussed the newly emerging multilateral power politics in Asia in the context of ASEAN initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the United States led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). He argued that central to both the RCEP and TPP is the politics and prominence of ASEAN. He highlighted that several aspects of the Sino-US, Sino-Japanese and US-Japanese dynamics vis-à-vis the RCEP and TPP have been analysed. However, perceptions of India and China regarding the two groupings have not been adequately studied and the paper aims to discuss this understudied aspect, noted Dr. Panda. The paper explained the politics, policy and nuances that India and China attach to RCEP and TPP. Factoring both RCEP and TPP in the ASEAN context, Dr. Panda argued that China’s tryst with the RCEP under ASEAN+6 is an opportunity for India to maximize its ‘Look East’ policy. He added that RCEP is vital to China politically to address the challenges and concerns it faces from the US ‘pivot to Asia’ policy.

    He also noted that China has opposed inclusion of India under the ASEAN+6 and thus the sprit of ASEAN in unifying the leading economies of the region has remained unfulfilled so far. Maritime disputes in the region have widened the gap among the ASEAN partners and ASEAN’s six dialogue partners. These maritime disputes have brought into question the ASEAN+6 concept, brining into question if the economic ethos of an East Asian Community would ultimately help reduce the existing political differences. It would be interesting to see how China approaches the politics of RCEP and tries to accommodate India and its interests.

    The paper was structured in four parts. First part drew a comparative outline of RCEP and TPP and policy preferences of China and the US on RCEP and TPP respectively. The second part explained the centrality of ASEAN in the politics of RCEP and TPP and presented a scenario of how the politics of ASEAN is offering a new opportunity in East Asia, particularly for two regional players, India and China. The third part discussed the Chinese and Indian perspective vis-à-vis the RCEP and TPP. The fourth part discussed the emerging contours of the political scope and opportunities for China-India politics in ASEAN context.

    In conclusion, Dr. Panda mapped three important structural developments in the East Asian regional order that have taken place during the evolution of RCEP and TPP. First, a direct Sino-US rivalry seems to be clearly emerging and the ASEAN community is divided between the Chinese and the American worldviews. Second, the ASEAN-led regional multilateral politics is going to be another important aspect of regional politics, where engaging with ASEAN and its dialogue partners will be the priority for several countries including India. Third, China will continue to place most of its foreign policy thrust on ASEAN and South-East Asia. Even as China’s tryst with ASEAN will continue to be the greater deciding factor in the regional politics, India will continue to emerge as a vital power and RCEP will be a favourable factor for India in this context.

    Major points of discussion and suggestions to the author:

    • It would be incorrect to assume that RCEP is China led. It is still an ASEAN led process. However, it can be described as China dominated.
    • It is debatable whether the TPP is a byproduct of the US ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy. The TPP was formalized much before the enunciation of ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy.
    • Little bit of restructuring of the paper is needed; the idea behind the TPP and RCEP and its basic objective should be brought out in the beginning of the paper and then other related issues should be discussed for a better clarity of the issue.
    • It would be wrong to draw a conclusion that RCEP will help moderate China’s behaviour towards the regional countries. The cases of China’s approach to Philippines following Scarborough Shoal dispute where China temporarily halted the imports of banana from the Philippines and restrictions on export of rare earths to Japan following Senkaku spat, suggest that China puts aside all trade agreements.
    • India is destined to join the RCEP. But it should be opened to join the TPP. India would loose huge market if it does not join the TPP.

    (Report Prepared by Dr. Shamshad A. Khan, Research Assistant, IDSA.)