FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shoot Out at the Free Trade Corral

by PEPE ESCOBAR

What a photo – yet another instance of Bali working its magic. Chinese President Xi Jinping leads a “Happy Birthday” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, with Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono on acoustic guitar. You know who is not in the picture – he’s in shutdown containment mode. US Think Tankland protestations notwithstanding, there could not be a more graphic reminder of the emerging multipolar order.

And right on cue, the Creditor, somewhat alarmed, pointedly reminded the massive Debtor, via Chinese vice-finance minister  Zhu Guangyao: “As the world’s largest economy and the issuer of the major reserve currency in the world, it is important for the US to maintain the creditworthiness of its Treasury bonds.” [1]

Translation; just as Asia-Pacific gathered to discuss the messier points of economic cooperation at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali, what everybody was worried about is the scary possibility of the US government defaulting on its colossal debts next week. All this interfered with by a sideshow – the Return of the Extraordinary Rendition in Libya and Navy SEALS getting their butts kicked by a bunch of al-Shabaab jihadis in Somalia, more than enough to bury any coverage of the APEC summit by US corporate media.

As predicted, China was the star of the APEC show. It’s never enough to remember that the 21-member APEC accounts for no less than half of the globe’s economic output and trade. Xi insisted APEC should lead and coordinate the maze of free trade negotiations in Asia-Pacific.

He also insisted that any trade agreement should be “inclusive” – as in including China. Only then would it bear the requisite “win-win” trademark; as if Xi needed to emphasize once more – as he did – that China is the biggest trading partner and export market for virtually every Asia-Pacific nation.

Behold the “Diamond Decade”

The ongoing blockbuster in Asia-Pacific is the clash of the FTAs; there are a dizzying, over 100 competing free-trade agreements currently in play. Negotiations at the World Trade Organization are, to put it mildly, a mess. So a lot of players resort to bilateral and somewhat multilateral FTAs. Overall, the top contenders are the 16-nation, ASEAN-led Comprehensive Economic Partnership (which includes China) and the 12-nation, US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes China..

Xi stressed over and over again that China favors one FTA to cover all of the Asia-Pacific. And as far as Beijing is concerned, that won’t be TPP – which is essentially a major US corporate racket that will lower tariffs across the spectrum to the sole benefit of US multinationals and not small and medium-sized firms in developing countries, all this under the cover of a dodgy “highest free trade standard”.

China essentially wants APEC to put order in the court. Obama has been too busy pivoting to himself instead of pivoting to Asia, more specifically Bali, to offer his spin – but the fact is Washington wants to ram up a TPP over its “partners” under a tight deadline, the end of 2013, glossing over key “devil in the details” discussions over market access (sweet if you’re a corporate behemoth) and intellectual property (corporate behemoths marketizing everything).

It gets curioser and curioser when one is reminded that APEC at the beginning was very much a US Asia policy stalwart. I vividly remember covering the APEC summit in Bogor, Indonesia in 1994 – when an undisputed Bill Clinton seemed to be dictating the future of Asia-Pacific. That was a sort of “pivoting to Asia” before the fact – and totally under American terms. Then, after the pivoting was first announced by then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, she spun it as the dawn of “America’s Pacific century”.

This “Pacific century” seems to boil down, so far, to enforcing an already embattled TPP. Bantarto Bandoro, from the Indonesian Defense University, seemed to get closer to the real picture when he told the Jakarta Globe, “this could be the beginning of the end of American global dominance.”

While the verdict in this Shootout at the Free Trade Corral remains open, workaholic China proceeds. After its spectacular New Silk Road successes in Central Asia, Beijing has just proposed a – what else is new – Maritime Silk Road (MSR) in Southeast Asia, boosting trade between China and ASEAN.

Once again, Xi was the messenger, in his current tour of Indonesia and Malaysia; he beamed that the MSR would turn the “Golden Decade” between China and ASEAN into a “Diamond Decade”. China is the 10-member ASEAN’s largest trading partner (over US$400 billion in 2012), with mutual investment at over $100 billion and growing. Beijing sees this coming “Diamond Decade” as the bulk of the political/economic solution for the so far intractable territorial problems in the South China Sea, which pit China against four ASEAN members; Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Xi already embarked on a charm offensive in Malaysia, and it’s unclear what Vietnam and the Philippines will make of this “Diamond Decade” when there’s so much unexplored, unassigned oil and gas to be found in the South China Sea. Yet once again, Beijing is playing the long game. The 2014 APEC summit will be held – of all places – in Beijing. By then Obama may have found time to do some actual pivoting. And by then that may be too little, too late.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com

This column originally appeared on Asia Times.

Note.

1. China urges US to prevent debt default, Xinhuanet, October 7, 2013.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail