Thursday, 26 March 2015
NEGOTIATIONS on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious trade agreement linking America, Japan and ten other countries—together accounting for 40% of global GDP—have missed so many deadlines that one more may not seem to matter. But talks are reaching a point of no return. Without an agreement in the next few weeks there will not be enough time to complete the TPP before America is embroiled in a presidential election campaign, and progress will be impossible until 2017. American diplomats, however, insist the deal is on track. They sometimes seem to be trying to convince themselves that an aim that has become a linchpin of American strategy is still achievable.
Their nervousness has been heightened by the recent embarrassment over the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new, China-led multilateral development-finance institution. A number of close American allies have applied to become founding shareholders, ignoring American entreaties to shun it as a threat to global standards. After that setback, America needs the TPP to succeed more than ever. It may well do so. But the most recent round of TPP talks, in Hawaii, appears to have ended with some important disagreements still unresolved.
This is not surprising. The TPP is to be a “21st-century” agreement, involving contentious reforms in areas such as intellectual property, the treatment of state-owned companies and environmental and labour standards. It includes economies at very different stages of development—from Peru and Vietnam to America and Australia. And even on 20th-century issues of import tariffs and market access, big differences remain between the two biggest economies in the TPP, America and Japan. In both agriculture and carmaking, America is demanding concessions that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will find politically difficult.
The biggest problems, however, may be at home in Washington, DC. The 11 other countries will be loth to show their final position until the Obama administration has “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from Congress. Without TPA, Congress could unpick any agreement clause by clause rather than have to pass or reject it as a whole. And securing TPA is far from certain. The pact faces criticism from right-wing Republicans as well as from many Democrats. Paul Krugman, an economics Nobel laureate turned New York Times columnist, has called the economic case for the TPP “weak”. In February he wrote that if it does not happen it will be “no big deal”.
Mr Krugman is wrong there. Failure to complete it would be a terrible blow to American interests, for a number of reasons. Trade liberalisation itself is of course one. With prospects of a global agreement at the World Trade Organisation vanishing, America’s hopes lie in the TPP and the more distant Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe. In his state-of-the-union speech to Congress in January, Barack Obama dwelt on “the world’s fastest-growing region”, ie, Asia and the Pacific.
The TPP has also become central to America’s most important alliance in Asia, with Japan. Concluding it would show that the two countries can overcome the trade irritants that have always tested the relationship. It is also seen as a vital part of Mr Abe’s strategy to shake the Japanese economy out of its prolonged torpor, in part by forcing structural reform upon it. This week Mr Obama confirmed an invitation to Mr Abe to the White House on April 28th. Mr Abe will also make a speech to Congress. But an inability to conclude the TPP, combined with renewed difficulties over moving a controversial American marine base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, could make the inevitable professions of eternal friendship ring a little hollow.
More broadly, so would another central boast of Mr Obama’s diplomacy, the “pivot” or “rebalancing” of American interests towards Asia. Diplomatically, this has always looked a little perfunctory, as crises in the Middle East and Europe have distracted America. The military component has so far not seemed very significant. And so more and more emphasis has been placed on the economic element—the TPP. Having advertised it as a symbol of their country’s enduring role as a regional leader, Americans can hardly complain if other countries choose to interpret it that way.
Yet when Mr Obama made his pitch in his state-of-the-union speech for support for TPA, he did not make the argument as one about global trade, the Japanese alliance or “rebalancing” to Asia. Rather, he argued it was needed to protect the interests of American workers and businesses against strategic competition from China, which, he said, wants to “set the rules” in the region.
China is at present excluded from TPP, but is engaged in talks with 15 other countries, including the ten members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, as well as India and Japan, on what looks like a rival trade agreement, known as the RCEP. China has long suspected that the TPP is designed to keep it out—one part of an American policy of containment. Why, for example, its scholars ask, is Vietnam included? Its economy, too, is lacking in transparency and distorted by state-owned industry.
The zero-sum illusion
So the struggle to complete trade agreements seems to have become yet another area of strategic competition between America and China as they tussle for regional influence. As with the AIIB fiasco, this is unwarranted: both countries would gain from the boost to the global economy that the TPP and RCEP would provide. And China is free to join the TPP if it accepts its standards, which it has not ruled out. The dream is that, in the end, the overlapping trade pacts will merge in a broad free-trade area including both America and China—under American-style rules. So each should be cheering the other’s efforts on. Failure to complete the TPP would be a serious defeat for American diplomacy for many reasons. Portraying it as a way of countering China risks adding an unnecessary one: that it would look like a Chinese victory.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh
IN GINZA, Tokyo’s best-known shopping district, a dozen-odd tour buses disgorge crowds of determined Chinese shoppers at their first stop: a suitcase emporium from which they emerge with the extra capacity they need to cart home the cornucopia of Japanese goods they are about to amass, including what mainlanders now dub Japan’s “four treasures”—brand-name rice cookers, vacuum flasks, ceramic knives and high-tech lavatory seats (see article). In the funky boutiques of Daikanyama, Chinese dandies are hard to tell apart from local counterparts in cropped trousers and round, horn-rimmed spectacles (until recently Chinese tourists always stood out a mile for their unsophisticated dress sense). Meanwhile, mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and South Koreans are filling hotels and ryokan, traditional inns, from Japan’s northernmost province of Hokkaido to Okinawa, a subtropical island in the south.
The tourism boom began in earnest last year and has far surpassed anything the government dared hope for. Just over 13m foreigners, 11m of them Asian, came to Japan in 2014, up nearly 30% compared with a year earlier and half as many again as in 2010. Chinese arrivals have jumped by more than four-fifths since 2013, and 450,000 mainlanders came for the week of the Chinese new year in February alone.
A huge incentive is the weakness of the yen thanks to the Bank of Japan’s monetary easing. The currency has fallen sharply, including by nearly two-fifths against the yuan, which is loosely pegged to the dollar, since October 2011. The draw for sightseers and shoppers is proving irresistible. Foreign tourists spent ¥2 trillion ($18.9 billion) last year, about double their outlay in 2012. Think of it as the most visible consequence of Abenomics, the plan by the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to boost the economy mainly through central-bank easing. Once notorious for its high prices, Japan is now ludicrously cheap. Song Yuanyin, hired by a Shanghainese family to help hunt for rice cookers, says goods are much cheaper than in Shanghai.
Looser visa rules have also helped spur inbound tourism, along with tax-free shopping. Japanese businesses are adapting. No-frills hotels for travelling salarymen are being revamped to cater to foreign tourists—hotels in the Apa group (“Always Pleasant Amenity”) are popular with foreigners for their traditional twist and low cost. Michi no eki, government-designated rest areas for motorists offering restaurants, crafts shops and even onsen hot springs now aim their services squarely at Asian visitors.
The Japanese themselves were once caricatured as they descended upon Europe’s tourist spots by the coach load. Now many Japanese complain about boorish Asian tourists. South Koreans, for instance, always demand discounts, says Kazushi Komatsuzaki, the manager of a men’s clothing store in Daikanyama. Another manager of a clothes shop says that even though Chinese buy as many as 30 items at a time, they tend to eat while fingering all the goods. At onsen, visitors violate a strict etiquette, with Chinese the worst offenders, says Kaori Tsuda, the owner of a thatched onsen resort in Hakone, a national park near Mount Fuji. You are supposed to wash yourself thoroughly before quietly slipping in naked to the communal pool. Instead, some Chinese jump in fully clothed and even try to make bubbles by pouring in liquid soap. In refined Kyoto, Chinese were caught—horrors—shaking a cherry tree to make a shower of blossom. But it is all worth it. A foreign visitor spends on average ¥130,000, and a good chunk of the spending benefits depressed local regions once visitors can be lured away from Ginza.
Besides, visitors seem to take home more than just souvenirs, shopping bags and selfies. Zeng Yang, from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, says that she particularly relishes Japan’s clean air. For Chinese visiting Hakone, the clear skies and pristine environment make a deep impression, says Ling Yun, a guide. In Naha, Okinawa’s capital, Hong Kongers fill huge bags with fresh vegetables and fruit, so wary are they of chemically contaminated produce back home from mainland China.
What is more, as Japanese diplomats observe hopefully, mainland Chinese visitors are often surprised to find that their neighbours are not the blood-curdling imperialists portrayed in anti-Japanese television dramas in China. Instead, they go home with stories of having lost wallets or other items safely returned to them. Indeed, on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging service, a theme of the “true goodness” of the Japanese has taken off, much to the Japanese tourist board’s delight. For this outbreak of amity, give thanks to the central bank.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh
LEE KUAN YEW died on March 23rd after spending 47 days in intensive care. His son and prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, told the country that Singapore will not see a man like him again. Its first prime minister had “fought for independence, built a nation where there was none and made us proud to be Singaporeans”. After a family wake, the patriarch’s body lay in state on March 25th. Singaporeans came in huge numbers to pay respects: by the afternoon the queues wound all around downtown Singapore, with an eight-hour wait to file past the coffin. Elsewhere, at designated sites, people left flowers, cards and balloons. A typical note read: “Thank you for all the sweat and tears you’ve shed for the building of our nation.”
Another tribute to Mr Lee’s nation-building was the absence of any flicker from the stockmarket on news of his death. True, Mr Lee had not been prime minister for 25 years, and he had been out of government entirely since 2011. But Singapore sits in a region rife with political instability and corruption. By contrast, and thanks largely to Mr Lee, Singapore’s institutions are strong, its governance honest, effective—and dull.
Yet slowly and unmistakably, its controlled politics is changing. When Mr Lee pulled tiny Singapore out of its union with Malaysia, it was poor and faced long odds. Today Singaporeans are well-educated and well-travelled, while GDP per head is among the world’s highest. Having grown up in a rich country, young Singaporeans increasingly chafe at restrictions their grandparents willingly accepted. Public protests remain rare. (One place where they are partly tolerated, Hong Lim Park’s Speakers’ Corner, was closed this week “for remembering” Mr Lee.) But complaining, criticising and venting frustrations on social media are increasingly common.
Rising expectations have already produced popular discontent, or what passes for it in Singapore. The People’s Action Party (PAP), which Mr Lee founded, has governed without interruption since before Singapore became a republic in 1965. But in the most recent general election, in 2011, the PAP posted its worst-ever performance, winning just 60% of the popular vote—6.5 percentage points less than it took in 2006 (though thanks to clever boundary-drawing, it still won 81 of 87 elected seats).
That election, says Kenneth Paul Tan at the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy, showed the government that “citizens’ views really do matter” and that the old paternalist model of politics that assumed Singaporeans could see no further than their narrow self-interest no longer holds.
Especially since that election, the government has made a point of listening to citizens rather than just lecturing them. Our Singapore Conversation, an initiative launched in 2012, has held more than 660 “dialogue sessions” across the country, during which Singaporeans have discussed their views on government policies. Such programmes may be largely symbolic, but they at least show government openness. And, Mr Tan argues, they help develop the civic and democratic values that years of paternalism had discouraged.
That is a long-term transformation. In the nearer term, the PAP must contest another election—it will probably call one for later this year. No one seriously expects it to lose. At the recent launch of a new political party, Singaporeans First, opposition leaders conceded that Mr Lee’s death and Singapore’s 50th anniversary celebrations in August will boost the ruling party.
But a party does not have to lose to change. In recent years the PAP has overcome its aversion to welfare programmes, expanding financial aid to the elderly and directing more benefits to poorer Singaporeans. It has tried to use persuasion rather than bullying in meeting popular discontent over high rates of immigration and concerns over whether Singapore’s forced-savings scheme can meet the needs of an ageing population. In his time, Lee Kuan Yew would have done it differently. But the times are changing.
Đăng ký: Hoc tieng anh