Broadly focusing on the militarization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “the Cooperation and Capacity Building” Chapter should provide context to just how threatening this Pacific partnership is to the region.
Cooperation means discussion and consensus, but for the U.S.—perhaps as far back as the 1948 Economic Cooperation Act, but certainly the 1989 Washington Consensus, cooperation and capacity building has taken on an entirely different meaning, one that I think President Bush summarized so eloquently when he said, “If you are not with us, you are against us.”
The TPP is not a partnership. For the TPP, “Cooperation,” and the kind of activities that is meant by economic cooperation and capacity building is nothing more than using the kind of “resources and technical information” that partner countries have or can provide to bully forward the kind of neoliberal global corporate governance that the BRICS countries and much of the world is trying to move away from.
What the conclusion of the TPP has done is draft an “if you are not with us, you are against us” road map, and although the TPP is not a declaration of war, this is an agreement that if ratified, seeks to lay out the clear priorities and processes that broadly defines a national strategy (pdf) for implementing military cooperation within the Asia-Pacific.
It has long been a priority for Washington to advance a maritime policy for economic and security reasons and earlier this year the U.S. Department of Defense has introduced its Maritime Strategy for the region:
“Maritime Asia is a vital thruway for global commerce, and it will be a critical part of the region’s expected economic growth. The United States wants to ensure the Asia-Pacific region’s continued economic progress. The importance of Asia-Pacific sea lanes for global trade cannot be overstated. Eight of the world’s 10 busiest container ports are in the Asia-Pacific region, and almost 30 percent of the world’s maritime trade transits the South China Sea annually, including approximately $1.2 trillion in ship-borne trade bound for the United States. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments transit through the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and in 2014, more than 15 million barrels of oil passed through the Malacca Strait per day.”
The language in the Cooperation and Capacity Building chapter is deliberately non-specific. Carefully crafted, the non-specificity of this text allows for its flexibility in strategic policy making, and it is not simply an anomoly that the Trans Pacific Partnership does not include “trade agreement” in its title as it does with the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) or the Central American Free Trade Agreement (Cafta). First and foremost, the TPP is a regional partnership, and the original agreement that it grew out of was the Trans Pacific Strategic and Economic Partnership, ratified in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore.[i] This was a partnership that sought to expand beyond the international limitations guiding international legal policy in both the WTO Doha Development Rounds[ii], as well the legal territorial parameters of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).[iii] Although the TPP4 does not contain the kind of language found in the Cooperation and Capacity Building chapter, the language contained in the definitions of territory does expand upon the territorial limits currently recognized by international law.
In describing how the 1948 Economic Cooperation Act is a precursor to the Trans Pacific Partnership, It’s important to look at how “Cooperation” may constitute the most important factor in U.S. trade relations, Walter S. Surrey, then the Assistant Legal Adviser to the Department of State wrote:
“the details generally do not commit the administration of the Act to a narrow, rigid course of action. On the contrary, as a matter of legislative drafting, the greatest single virtue of the Act is that, despite its complexity, despite its broad coverage, despite its detail, it is flexible. The proponents of the legislation in both the executive and legislative branches recognized not only the potent inadvisability, but also the obvious futility, of attempting to determine a specific, rigid course to be followed in a unique voyage of four and a quarter years duration over relatively uncharted waters.”[iv]
Additionally, read alongside DOD Operational Directives like the Defense Security Cooperation, it’s very clear that the ongoing provocation by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in the disputed islands in the South China Sea is effectuating Trans-Pacific partners to not simply provoke, obstruct, and contain China, but to firmly entrench TPP plutocrats as the new CEO overlord.
The 2015 release of the “DSC vision”–essentially a business plan dubiously called Vision 2020– realigns the strategic priorities of the Defense Department to synchronize information and communication, and mainframe a matrix that would expand the Defense Department across national boundaries. Cooperation and Capacity Building creates regional militaries and partnerships among multinational and local industries. Vision 2020, would enable TPP partner countries greater access to cooperating militaries, while sharing the cost of not only R&D, but manufacturing as well with the creation of local SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises). It is also one of the only trade chapters where no party will have recourse to ISDS dispute settlement.
Like clockwork, once the TPP negotiations concluded, the U.S. entered within 12-nautical miles of China’s territorial claim of the Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. That’s why when Defense Secretary Carter said that the TPP was worth as much to him as a new aircraft carrier, you didn’t need a crystal ball to understand that the South China Seas was the “crown jewel” of Obama’s trade and military rebalance.
Since 2009, global military sales to partner countries has amounted to nearly $200 billion dollars, averaging about $27 billion annually (pdf). For perspective, in the five regions, military sales in the Asia-Pacific ranks second, about 25% behind the Middle-East, but far ahead of Europe, Africa and the Western Hemisphere, which is confounding considering that previous to the TPP, military sales in the Asia-Pacific was on par with the other regions.
I would argue that the South China Seas has been an organizing tool for the TPP. It was only in 2009, when Obama announced joining the TPP that Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei (TPP countries), and the Philippines and Indonesia (both having Trade and Investment Framework Agreements and Mutual Defense Agreements with the U.S.) concertedly began to assert territorial definitions in the South China Seas through a multilateral approach. There was already a bilateral agreement that was signed in 2002 called the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Seas, signed between China and ASEAN, but perhaps it wasn’t the “Gold Standard” that Obama sought. Complicating the issue, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea recognizes both multilateral and bilateral approaches to resolving the territorial dispute, despite Washington’s continued push for a multilateral solution as the only option.
Also I think it’s important to understand the DOD already maintains about 400 military installations (pdf) in the region. China, with their artificial island outposts have four. Additionally, Obama has– without any serious disputes from Pacific Island governments or other countries– recently annexed about 1.3 million square kilometers of Pacific Ocean territory through the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Act (PRIMNM) co-managed by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense.
Without coloring judgement, much of the territorial debate around the South China Seas is being undercut with misinformation coming from Western sources, and it’s important that we get some historical accuracy.
- The nine-dash line was once an 11-dash line (pdf) that was drawn and supported by the U.S.-backed Kuomintang while fighting the Japanese occupation of China which ended during WWII (more maps here). When the 11-dash line was drawn, there was no disagreement or controversy by either the U.S., the U.K., or the Soviet Union, or any of the United Nations members when it was formed. For the U.S., the expectation had been that Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist party would succeed but it was not until just after “Title IV” of the 1948 Economic Cooperation Act was signed that US support for Chiang Kai-Shek’s leadership began to flounder and the U.S. shifted military resources to Korea.
- In the 1996 Strait baseline document, the U.S. State Department writes: “The PRC is hardly alone in violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1982 UN Convention [on the Law of the Sea]. Excessive baseline claims are all too common in Asia and elsewhere. Those of Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia, North Korea, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam are as extreme as that of the PRC.” In terms of the US using diplomatic or military terms to challenge China’s claim, State Department concludes its report by saying that in order to resolve these disputes, “We must now wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop.” Again, that was from 1996.
The BBC wrote: “In 1974 the Chinese seized the Paracels from Vietnam, killing more than 70 Vietnamese troops,” but historically, in 1974, civil war was still going on and the China-backed North Vietnamese had recognized China’s claim of the Paracels. It was the U.S. backed South Vietnamese troops that were killed.
- As much as the media tries to say that the U.S. is not provoking China, how is it not provocative interference when the Brookings Institute writes: “The U.S. government should make clear to the other claimants, and to other ASEAN countries like Singapore and Thailand, that we expect them to be public in their rejection of the nine-dash line under international law.”
Last week, when Defense Secretary Carter provoked China by sailing the USS Lassen through the disputed Spratly Islands, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein rightfully said, “I don’t welcome anything that can disrupt the stability of the region,”. “This is our region. We cannot allow other parties to determine our future.” The Malaysian Defense Minister also clarified that the South China Sea issue itself was not under the purview of the defense ministry and would be discussed by ASEAN foreign ministers during the 27th ASEAN Summit to be held in a couple weeks.
Geographically speaking, it’s also not coincidence that the four ASEAN countries that have a stake in the South China Seas dispute against China are also TPP countries. Looking at the non-OECD (pre 2009), countries in the TPP (Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam), what they all have in common is that they all strategically impede China’s access to Africa, the Mid-East and Latin America. Maritime access among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) partners and their regional trade alignments are geographically blocked by this partnership and the “Cooperation and Capacity Building” of integrated TPP militaries, headed by both Pacific Command in Hawaii and Western Pacific Logistic Command (COMLOGWESTPAC) in Singapore can create a series of log jams for non-TPP flagged container ships, and the not-TPP-favoured-nation countries like China.
As a result of BRICS, I’m a little more optimistic in stating that TPP rules will not win over the global multilateral agreements and become mainframed in international agreements like the Convention on Climate Change or the Sustainable Development Goals. Given the opportunity to develop accordingly, the new BRICS-led institutions can provide for Civil Society Organizations to advance Climate-based and Development Goals on non privatization-based neoliberal terms. Additionally, the “One Belt One Road”, or new Silk Road/Maritime Silk Road, could help global campaigners steer the world away from the 1%’s agenda of Global Corporate Governance.
While it may be wise to reserve a dose of cynicism when it comes to the BRICS alignment, we should be careful to not let misinformation campaigns cloud the equitable rebalancing of the global economy. BRICS, after all, has been established as a multipolar institution made up primarily of developing countries and emerging economies no longer content to be subjugated by the old colonial ambitions of leveraging debt against commodity resources. The organization of this alignment can be found in the BRICS Fortaleza Declaration that was signed in 2014, followed by the Ufa Declaration signed earlier this year focusing on trade and investment.
Following speculation bubbles and economic crashes that have thrown countries like Greece and Argentina into turmoil, the BRICS model offers a development model that is not based on excessive debt and speculation. What BRICS provides is not a Wall St. investment driven cabal for Global Corporate Governance, it is a partnership built off the principles of trade and development that may have far greater potential for meeting the needs of developing countries.
Regardless of what one thinks about China’s claim in the South China Seas, we should not underestimate that Washington’s strategy for undermining this claim is enmeshed in obstructing the BRICS agenda. Simply put, the U.S. does not want to conform to a multilaterally-led trade alignment like BRICS, and will pull at nothing to advance a maritime policy seeking to embed itself as a unipolar power in the Asia-Pacific.
[i] Trans Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (2005), also referred to as the TPP4, is a pathfinder agreement that grew out of the Asia Pacific Economic Partnership (APEC). It was originally seen as an exploratory first step toward the creation of a Free Trade Area in the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), integrating the various economies whose goals were to support a wider liberalization process within the APEC countries, particularly around issues held up in the WTO Doha Development Round.
[ii] World Trade Organization. https://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/whatis_e/tif_e/doha1_e.htm#singapore (accessed July 27, 2016).
In the trade and investment sectors, the WTO Doha Development Round hit a standstill on a number of principles such as the “need to balance the interests of countries where foreign investment originates and where it is invested, countries’ right to regulate investment, development, public interest and individual countries’ specific circumstances.”
[iii] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), ratified by 168 parties since its draft in 1982. The United States has not yet ratified yet.
The following is a direct quote from the signed 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic and Economic Partnership that Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei signed, and the agreement calls for an expansion on the definition of territory to include:
“…with respect to Singapore, its land territory, internal waters and territorial sea as well as and any maritime area situated beyond the territorial sea which has been or might in future be designated under its domestic law, in accordance with international law, as an area within which Singapore may exercise sovereign rights or jurisdiction with regard to the sea, seabed, the subsoil and the natural resources.”
This change in the definition of “territory” by Singapore embodies the kind of creeping legislation that seeks to reduce the authority of UNCLOS’s limits to territorial boundaries and environmental regulations, and asserts new sovereign rights for industries like deep sea bed mining for example.
[iv] Walter S Surrey. The Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, (California Law Review, Vol. XXXVI, No.4, December 1948) 510.