By He Qinglian on November 17, 2011
China has been very upset recently. The US-led APEC summit commenced with China not being invited to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement; at the same time, the ANZUS treaty was renewed, an incident that upset China all the more.
China's sophists, both inside the government and outside, acted together simultaneously. They wrote many articles, and gave all sorts of bizarre responses: some of them were worried about TPP member countries, like those who thought that the TPP without China's participation would be meaningless; others wrote articles that made it hard for readers to figure out which country won in this round of diplomacy, one such example was an absurd piece written by Anthony Yuen, “Regarding the issues of TPP, China gave the U.S. some soft nails”; and there were even articles presenting the interpretation that the new TPP shown America's intention to contain China, including “U.S. launching attacks through TPP, targeting China ”, “U.S. has completed its East Asia strategic arrangements, China should be vigilant”, “ASEAN united front against China has taken shape”, so on and so forth. Those who read reports from only the Chinese media and do not realize that China's “U.S. conspiracy theories” is a recurring theme would surely think that the world is on the eve of the third world war with China and the U.S. standing off against each other.
Still, these responses conveyed very accurately a message: China's really disturbed by not being invited to the TPP. The Asia-Pacific Region is the front yard of China, some of the countries in the region, like Singapore, are which China worked to improve ties with in recent years. This time, so many guests from afar came socializing with hosts in Asia while the region's largest country, China, was not invited. That truly was not giving China face, should the country put up with this or not?
Let's first look at where did the TPP come from. It was initially a multilateral free trade agreement signed between Singapore, New Zealand, Chile and Brunei within the APEC framework. The agreement received little international notice at first. It was only until after the U.S. “returned to Asia” and kick-started the TPP negotiation in 2009 that the agreement obtained global attention. By now there are [ten] members in the TPP. Japan, owing to its agricultural sector's opposition, is not yet a full member and has only just announced to join in the negotiation. The agreement could create the world's biggest free trade zone.
In recent years, China has become the world's largest in several areas: the largest base for low-cost commodity supply; the largest attraction for foreign investment among developing countries; the country with the largest energy demand; and the country with the largest foreign exchange reserves. Thanks to these “largests”, most of the countries have to have ties with China in one way or another. Logically, out of consideration of their own interests, the [TPP member] countries should not have barred China from any economic agreement.
And Let’s see how the United States, which dominates the TPP that excludes China, said about this.
On November 13, U.S. President Obama spoke at the closing press conference of the APEC summit, using the harshest remarks to this date, claiming that the United States is losing patience with China’s monetary policy and trade practice, China “has grown up”, and should act like an adult when dealing with other countries; he also demanded China to stop gaming the international system, because “Enough is enough”, China should know when to stop. The Reuters ran on November 14 a report entitling “Obama On Chinese Economy: ‘Enough’s Enough’ Of ‘Gaming’ The International System” to cover his speech.
The main point of Obama’s speech was that China must play by the rules of the international community. He also mentioned the serious infringement China has on intellectual property, stressing that China’s leaders need to “understand that their role is different now than it might have been 20 years ago or 30 years ago, where if they were breaking some rules, it didn’t really matter, it did not have a significant impact. Now they’ve grown up, and so they’re going to have to help manage this process in a responsible way.”
China is in fact fully aware that it has not played by the rules of the international community. Back when China signed the WTO agreement, reportedly Premier Zhu Rongji said inside the State Council that the most important thing was to sign the agreement. After signing, there is leeway as to how China would abide by the rules. Many specialists were saying something similar when they delivered talks abroad, that is, what matters most is to get in first. Once China is in, how the country would act depends on its own convenience. That’s indeed how China’s approach has been in the ten-odd years that followed the country's signing of the WTO agreement.
Of course, it's not just economy that China is not playing by the rules of the international community, Beijing is doing the same thing in other areas like politics and society. For instance, China has up to now signed in total twenty three international conventions relating to human rights; with the exception of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the country has so far ratified twenty-two conventions. Yet when looking at the real situation in China, one would find that the country’s pledges to these conventions are mostly unfulfilled.
And then let's look at why China was not invited to sign the TPP agreement. In response to the point, “China has yet to receive any invitation from TPP member countries, raised by a reporter from Phoenixgf Television, a White House press secretary stated that “TPP is not something that one gets invited to. It’s something that one aspires to. So I think with regard to China, or any other country, it is up to them to determine whether they are ready to consider the high standards that are required of a TPP partner.”
Qiao Bao, a long-time external propaganda outlet run by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, published on November 14 an article in which the following lines appeared:
“Read carefully the requirements of TPP, it's not hard to figure out the agreement has the intention to exclude China. The requirement that green products tariff be lowered is something that is hard for China to comply at this stage; that energy consumption per GDP be reduced is targeting China; that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) must operate in accordance with business practices when buying and selling goods and services is clearly singling out China's SOEs.
While recognized as its mission to spread lies that are mixed with bits of truth and had been confusing what's right and what's not, Qiao Bao still has to acknowledge that China is not up to the TPP standards. Because of the products manufactured not meeting the standards as a result of pollution, and processing procedures not meeting the requirements for green products; of energy consumption per unit of products far exceeding international standards; and of the SOEs joining in international competitions with the support of state privileges and so on, China has for years been criticized by the international community. Countries like the United States have been waiting for China “to come of age”, yet China is utilizing others' kindness toward a “child” and the time given to “learn to walk”, hoping that the preferential treatment it gets as a child would last forever.
And the reply from Foreign Ministry official was rather hilarious. In response to the speech by President Obama, Pang Sen, deputy director-general at China's Foreign Ministry said on November 13 that, “If the rules are made collectively through agreement and China is a part of it, then China will abide by them. If rules are decided by one or even several countries, China does not have the obligation to abide by that.”
This answer from Pang Sen was effectively the key to understanding why China doesn't play by international rules. From WTO to each and every of the international human rights conventions, China has not taken part in making them, it was only a latecomer. China signed those agreements only out of the purpose to enter into the international community. But with this political theory of “China not being a maker of the rules and is therefore not necessary to abide by them”, the country finds it right and proper not to follow the rules. Only that this thought was kept to themselves before and this time they said it out.
Therefore, if the international community, the United States in particular, want to “make China happy”, they have a few options: either they carry on the appeasement policy with China before 2009 and let China continue to enjoy the privilege of not having to obey the rules; or they might let China dominate the making of the rules when China wants to become a part of certain international agreements. If the international community finds these to be too hard to do and would rather not to include China, just like China's “not getting any invitation” to TPP, the country would not be happy. And it is just so very important for the world to keep China, the world's number two, happy.