Finally, a word about the TPP is in order. Taken together with closer cooperation with allies, engagement with emerging powers, support for regional multilateral institutions, and a cooperative relationship with China, economic engagement with the region constitutes one of the five legs of the pivot, and TPP is widely seen as the leading indicator of deeper U.S. economic ties to the Indo-Pacific. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the Obama administration sought new sources of economic growth, including through exports abroad and a more efficient allocation of capital at home. Together with ratification of the Korea-U.S Free Trade Agreement, TPP was intended to provide an economic counterpart to the political-diplomatic, multilateral or institutional, and military or defense steps outlined above. If TPP is never taken up by the Congress, or is taken up and rejected, this will constitute a serious setback for the pivot, although it is debatable whether or not this would truly constitute a crippling blow. However, rival programs for deepening economic cooperation in the region (the China-Japan-Korea Free Trade Agreement or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) do not appear to be moving ahead quickly and are, at any rate, shallow in terms of overall economic impact and so will not dramatically change the nature of the regional economic order if they are realized. TPP’s main impact is often thought of as an indication of regional norm-creation and rules-making, as well as an incentive for regional economic actors to shift production away from patterns that give China undue influence over the economic future of the region. While rejection of the TPP would be seen by many as constituting a serious failure by the United States to influence the future direction of regional economic growth, it is not clear that a delay of TPP (or even a renegotiation of specific provisions) would constitute a loss of anything approaching an extremely substantial magnitude.
AMERICA – A RESIDENT PACIFIC POWER, NOW AND FOREVER
As the Obama administration has emphasized, by dint of geography, interests, and values, the United States is and always will be a Pacific nation that will play a leading role in shaping the future of the region. The pivot has undoubtedly achieved substantial gains already, improving U.S. popularity and influence, and positioning America for additional gains in regional economic, diplomatic, and military cooperation for years to come. Any incoming administration would be wise to embrace these gains and build on them so as to preserve and further develop U.S. interests and influence in the region.
Dr. Scott W. Harold is the associate director of The Center for Asia Pacific Policy, and a political scientist at the non-profit, non-partisan RAND Corporation, as well as a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty.
Image: U.S. Navy