The Obama administration’s accelerating military “pivot” to the Pacific complements its so-far secret trade negotiations to blanket the Pacific Rim in a free trade zone favorable to US multinational corporations. The administration has yet to respond to complaints from 130 Congress members about the secrecy of negotiations to build a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now entering a 15th round from December 3-12 in a closed Auckland, New Zealand, summit
On the military side, White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilan boasted, “America is back,” with 100,000 US military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region, including new military agreements with the Philippines, Singapore and Australia. The US deploys 11 aircraft carriers and 11 littoral combat vessels for possible skirmishes against any Chinese efforts to weaken American military power in China’s geographic neighborhood. The US could also be drawn into military brinksmanship with China on the side of Japan over controversial but uninhabited Pacific islands, which are claimed to be “strategic” assets in the new Cold War.
The US military pivot aims not only at protecting sea-lanes, but occurs parallel to the negotiations to build a NAFTA-of-the-Pacific. A leading US diplomat, Nicholas Burns, describes the TTP as “a force multiplier” protecting US trade interests in the region. A new free-trade bloc would help the US reach its projected goal of $3.14 trillion in export profits by 2015, a leap from $2.1 trillion last year.
The TTP is described as a “coalition of the willing” by Harvard trade expert Robert Lawrence, borrowing from the ill-fated description of the American-controlled war in Iraq. The nine nations currently included in the TTP process are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore, along with the US.
Notably absent is China. Japan and South Korea are considering their options.
Similar agreements like NAFTA have weakened the role of governments, state-owned corporations and labor unions in an expanded marketplace dominated by multi-nationals. The agreement is unlikely to include enforceable labor protections for countries like Malaysia where hundreds of sweatshop workers died in a factory conflagration this month.
A recent article, “The New Age of Pacific Trade,” by Harvard scholar Elsa Kania, notes that few Americans “have even heard of the TTP,” which she attributes to the “near absolute secrecy of the negotiations and relative lack of input from domestic constituencies” like labor.
American anti-Chinese fervor is growing on a scale similar to anti-Muslim sentiment, though the Chinese have not attacked any Americans in recent years. A new film, however, “Death By China,” depicts a map of the United States with a Chinese sword driven through the heartland.
The roots of the American “open door policy,” which eyed Chinese and Pacific markets and resources as outlets for the American corporate economy, are described by William Appleman Williams in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. As US Secretary of State from 1898 to 1905, John Hay developed the Open Door Policy toward China just as America’s domestic frontier expansion war drawing to an end. Appleman Williams’ work became central to the counter-narrative to standard American histories in the 1960s.
For a critical evaluation of the TTP’s likely provisions, please see the Citizens Trade Campaign, which is demanding Congressional hearings instead of government secrecy and a global New Deal rather than a New Cold War.
For more on the documentary, "Death By China," please read Ryan Lee Wong's critique.