So, 15th November 2020, Vietnam. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership was signed into being by signatories belonging to 15 nations of the Asia-Pacific region. Participants in the RCEP have agreed to cut tariffs on over 90% of imports as well as encouraging inter-pacific trade developments and closer relations.
(Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam are the 15 nations among the RCEP)
Interestingly, despite being economically important in the region, India has decided against joining the RCEP even as an observer and the United States was excluded from the deal thanks to its withdrawal from the Asia-Pacific Trade Pact in 2017.
India has not joined the largest trading bloc in history in no small part due to the participation of China and recent events between the two nations especially on their borders this year.
The RCEP is seen by many as an extension of influence by China, the largest nation and economy in the partnership. Chinese ambitions have fuelled tensions in recent times with their massive claim in the South China Sea (the nine-dash line) and then the COVID-19 outbreak.
China wins in almost every way from the RCEP. They gain further economic influence over the region meaning that also translates into political influence over nations proving crucial in achieving China’s ambitions.
Nations in the Asia-Pacific region also seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as national lockdowns take their toll on their economies and political apprehensiveness becomes less relevant in these times meaning they are less inclined to oppose China’s inclusion within the RCEP.
The geopolitical ramifications underneath the economic benefits in the trade bloc further surrenders regional influence away from the U.S to China as the Asia Pacific region heats up.
For example, China may use the partnership in order to economically and diplomatically isolate India or the United States from the Pacific.
Whilst I acknowledge that the RCEP is undeniably an incredible political and economical undertaking, we are in the midst of a decade that we are less certain of then ever and what the superpowers of the world choose to do will determine the future of us all. But we can be certain that this is definitely a win for China.