China can take advantage of the signed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP ) to achieve its strategic goals in the region, including as a springboard for its Belt and Road Initiative, according to a senior economist from Vietnam.
Talking to BBC News Vietnamese from Hanoi this week about China’s move, right after the country and four other partners in the Asia-Pacific region signed with ASEAN countries, including Vietnam to join RCEP on November 15, 2020, Ms. Pham Chi Lan, former vice president, general secretary of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), commented:
“I think China is sure in every decision, they are carefully calculating the short term and the long term, and they are very wise to take opportunities at certain times and opportunities to make strategic and important decisions.
“Actually, RCEP has been negotiated for many years, 8 years of negotiation has not come to a conclusion, then at the end, I think this is also a wise push by China to match their strategy at this point.”
“But I must say there is a very clear problem for China here with the US-China trade war and with all the strategic confrontations in many ways for competing for influence between China and the US in this region, joining the RCEP especially from this point on has met China’s great strategic requirement that it wants to assert its position at least in the Asia and part of the Pacific.”
“Secondly, whether in terms of trade and other areas, even in terms of technology, China can still gain a greater influence in this region in terms of technology, in technology competition with the US and with other countries.”
“And it is clear that with this RCEP agreement, Chinese products and technology will have a much wider market for China to reach out to, both in the immediate and in the future. And so, this could give them a very good position, even in the long term technological competition with the US, the EU, and others.”
“China, like that, I think, they always calculate the long term, the road is much farther than some other countries, including Vietnam, because anyway, they are a big country with the power and power in and the growing out of the region, although they have had some difficulties in recent times, they will always find a way that they can rise above in order to achieve their goals and ambitions.”
“I think RCEP this time, after signing, has been able to meet with China in many ways, including its Belt and Road initiative story, that strategy last time, most with the Covid-19 epidemic, many countries had to rethink joining the Belt and Road, but China fully utilized this RCEP agreement mechanism to promote its Belt and Road strategy, at least in this area.“
What to do when one side is too good or the other is too disadvantaged?
When asked if there is one member who benefits more than the level of bias and causes damage or loss to the rest of the members, what mechanism can there be to rebalance the internal balance? Ms. Pham Chi Lan said:
“I have not studied in detail the RCEP document, but I am only afraid that in fact, when joining a common bloc, one country is too big and too strong compared to other countries, usually that country is easily a country that dominates that bloc on some aspects, other countries sometimes try to cooperate and coordinate, but it is not certain that all activities detrimental to other members but at the same time bring great benefits to a certain member can be blocked.
“Moreover, there have been many commitments between countries in Asia for a long time, but its implementation process is often not really fair or according to the commitments made and it remains. It is often the case that strong countries are still more likely to prevail over weak countries.
“Of course, it is necessary to carefully study the mechanism to ensure the control of power, how each country is in the RCEP, or the voice in major issues, whether the common voice of the majority of small countries can dominate the voice of a few countries with the certain potential to dominate.”
RCEP helps China end US “hegemony” in the region?
Recently, China’s foreign press has given a message that the RCEP regional economic partnership agreement is a strategic step for China to “end” US hegemony in the Western Pacific. When asked to comment on this, especially if in a future prospect situation when the US can reintegrate multilateral agreements in the region such as the CPTPP, economist Pham Chi Lan said:
“If there is such a scenario, as China expects to end the US hegemony, that expectation will not be as China waits anymore.
“As for other RCEP member countries, perhaps the scenario of the US reintegration would be much better in that not ending the role of one hegemon but replacing it with another hegemony, because this RCEP institution, it is easy to form another hegemon when there is no more US as hegemon here.”
“For RCEP member countries or Asia and the Pacific region in general, all countries have their aspirations and desires, even with the big ones, to enter into agreements. If the institutions in this region are engaged in a spirit of healthy competitive cooperation and are concerned with the common interests of other countries, including small ones, the bullying should not happen.”
“There is also no one who can monopolize this area, in this region, there are many countries, large and small, existing, they must have sovereignty and authority, not being turned into vassal states of some hegemon.”
Should America return to the CPTPP to reintegrate?
When asked, after the RCEP was formed and signed, should the US return and re-integrate with the Asia-Pacific region as a framework of a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Partnership Pacific Ocean (CPTPP) or not in the near future, Ms. Pham Chi Lan, a former member of the research team, advising on strategy and policy for the Prime Minister of Vietnam in the past, told the BBC:
“I think for America, whether Mr. Joe Biden or Mr. Donald Trump wins this election, we can wait a little longer to see how the US announced it to be clear, whoever goes. Furthermore, the success of China in joining other countries to sign the RCEP this time will also pose a direct challenge to the US and its influence in this region.
“It should also be said very frankly because before negotiating the TPP, one of the motives of the US is also to increase the influence of the US on the economy in the region and from there it can be partly counterbalanced. with China rising.
“However, when the US decided to withdraw from the TPP, that is when President Donald Trump took office in early 2017, he made the above impossible.”
“And now when China succeeds with the signing RCEP, formed at this point, it may cause the US to reconsider sooner or later.
The Chinese economy is strongly competing and challenges the US’ number one position in many fields
“I just hope that no matter who is elected, the US should really reconsider its decision to return to TPP, now the CPTPP.”
“But I think that returning to the CPTPP is only good for the US because I strongly agree with Joe Biden’s thinking that between countries must be allied and linked together to be able to fulfill their desires.”
“And especially when the US still wants to play the role of a great power itself, it is very necessary for cooperation and association with other countries, not that America separates itself from its partners and co-partners in competing with China,” Ms. Pham Chi Lan told BBC from Hanoi on November 16. 2020.