Opportunity for China to play bigger global role

Vehicles are seen through a window as they drive on Guomao Bridge during rush hour in Beijing, China on Nov 7, 2016.
Vehicles are seen through a window as they drive on Guomao Bridge during rush hour in Beijing, China on Nov 7, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Trump presidency could allow it to increase standing in trade, climate change: Observers

A Donald Trump presidency could open doors for China to take on a bigger global role, especially in promoting trade and fighting climate change, given the United States President-elect's disdain for these two issues, say Chinese observers.

Already, Beijing is talking up the need for a China-led regional trade pact at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Peru this coming weekend.

The observers say this is a chance for China to step up efforts to win support for its own free trade pacts.

RISING INFLUENCE

China's influence and voice is likely to increase in global climate governance, which will then spill over into other areas of global governance and increase China's global standing, power and leadership.

DR ZOU JI, deputy director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and a senior Chinese climate talks negotiator.

"With the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) deal effectively dead, the more feasible deal will be the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership)," China's Commerce Ministry researcher Mei Xinyu told The Straits Times.

The 16 members of the China-led pact will want to see the pact sealed quickly as most are highly dependent on trade, he said.

"This will contribute significantly to the growth and stability of the region," he added.

In an editorial yesterday, the state-run China Daily told the US: "Rest assured, the sky will not come tumbling down even if the TPP does get killed at the hands of the next president."

Advising the new US administration to be a part of China's initiative instead, it said: "Washington may want to take advantage of the nascent, evolving platform and become involved from the rule-making stage."

Besides the RCEP, which currently excludes the US, Beijing has also set its sights on a bigger trade deal that includes all 21 Apec members.

Known as the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), the deal promises greater benefits than those of other regional trade pacts currently under negotiation. Singapore, an Apec member, is also part of both the TPP and RCEP.

Chinese officials say Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the Apec meeting this weekend with the aim of pushing for more regional cooperation. China also hopes to see more progress in FTAAP discussions.

Climate change is another area where China could replace the US as the global champion, say some observers.

Mr Trump has reportedly threatened to pull the US out of the Paris pact to fight global warming, which nearly 200 countries signed.

"China's influence and voice is likely to increase in global climate governance, which will then spill over into other areas of global governance and increase China's global standing, power and leadership," Dr Zou Ji, deputy director of the National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and a senior Chinese climate talks negotiator, told Reuters.

But this leadership role is not without costs, and China may not want to go down that path, said Dr Chen Gang, a senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore.

"I don't think China will want to take on more aggressive responsibilities for it will constrain growth," he said.

 

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With the world's other leading carbon emitter - the US - out of the picture, China would be loath to be the lone party making the sacrifice.

"Countries are usually hesitant to commit unless the competitors also take on similar obligations. For China, an improvement in international image may not be enough to outweigh the economic interests that are at stake," he added.

While China is ambivalent about taking up global leadership roles, it is likely to welcome the chance to take on a bigger role regionally.

For a Trump-led US could also see the superpower shift its strategic focus away from the region, which will benefit China, said analysts.

Said Dr Chen: "China will face less pressure over the East and South China Sea issues as well as Taiwan, and this will give it an opportunity to play a bigger role in the region."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 16, 2016, with the headline 'Opportunity for China to play bigger global role'. Print Edition | Subscribe