Several high-ranking Chinese officials met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday—right as Congress saw its final hurdle, final Senate passage, of Obamatrade’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) met.
TPA will fast-track the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), essentially ensuring congressional approval of that Pacific Rim trade deal—one that currently does not include China, but will likely one day soon include the currency manipulating behemoth nation.
“The President met today with China’s Special Representatives to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue and Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, Vice Premier Liu Yandong, Vice Premier Wang Yang, State Councilor Yang Jiechi, and the Chinese delegation,” the White House announced in a press release on Wednesday.
The President acknowledged the importance of these annual ministerial-level mechanisms for expanding practical cooperation on regional and global challenges, while at the same time narrowing differences. The President and the Chinese Special Representatives agreed to further expand U.S.-China cooperation on climate and clean energy, and affirmed their unity of purpose in our approach to the Paris climate negotiations in December. Recognizing the importance of economic ties to the overall bilateral relationship, the President expressed support for China’s efforts to reform and rebalance its economy, and for our ongoing bilateral investment treaty negotiations, while urging China to address major economic challenges in the areas of its currency, technology and investment policies. The President raised ongoing U.S. concerns about China’s cyber and maritime behavior, and he urged China to take concrete steps to lower tensions.
The White House press release did not specifically state whether the TPP trade deal that will be fast-tracked through Congress came up during the talks, but Obama has previously confirmed the Chinese have expressed interest in joining the deal to him and his top administration officials.
“The President and the Chinese Special Representatives discussed the fundamental importance of demonstrating to North Korea that it will not succeed in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and its economy simultaneously, and both sides reiterated their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the release continued. “The two sides agreed that Iran should seize the historic opportunity presented by the ongoing P5+1 negotiations to address the international community’s concerns regarding its nuclear program. The two sides strongly expressed support for deepening ties between the citizens of the United States and the People’s Republic of China.”
President Obama has, however, confirmed in public interviews that China is actively interested in becoming a part of the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.
“They’ve already started putting out feelers about possibilities of them participating at some point,” Obama said of China with regard to TPP in an interview earlier this month.
While the White House did not say whether TPP came up in the talks in its release, what is interesting is that the release did say these talks did focus on topics that the Washington Post reported top analysts say are necessary for China to address to become part of the deal.
“China, which is challenging the U.S. economy as the world’s largest in some measures, is not involved in the TPP negotiations,” the Washington Post’s David Nakamura wrote on Wednesday. “Obama administration officials have said the trade deal is being structured to allow additional countries to join after the initial deal is ratified. However, the officials said, China has a long way to go before it can meet the labor and environmental standards that will be included in the accord.”
Now that President Obama has been granted fast track authority by Congress which makes it pretty much certain that TPP will pass, the “living agreement” inside TPP as exposed by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) means that he can add China to the deal without the approval of Congress.
Sessions warned in early May:
The “living agreement” provision means that participating nations could both add countries to the TPP without Congress’ approval (like China), and could also change any of the terms of the agreement, including in controversial areas such as the entry of foreign workers and foreign employees. Again: these changes would not be subject to congressional approval.
All these developments undercut establishment Republican talking points that Congress handing Obama fast-track authority—more power than Congress has—would somehow help the United States stand up to the Chinese.
“The rules of the global economy are being rewritten right now,” House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a mid-April interview with CNBC pushing Obamatrade. “I would strongly argue if we sit by and do nothing, then China will write the rules of the global economy, particularly in Asia, to China’s benefit. And that won’t be to the benefit of the American worker.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has just been caught in a serious Obamatrade conundrum on whether he actually read the text of the TPP before he voted to fast-track it, also in an April 29 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal touted his belief that the TPP—and pushing TPA to fast-track it—would somehow strengthen U.S. with Japan while weakening China.
“The first is ensuring that we maintain U.S. and allied defense capabilities that can resist the coercion or domination of Asia by an increasingly assertive and belligerent China,” Rubio wrote in the op-ed laying out his three Asia policy pillars—the op-ed in which he pushed for TPA and TPP. “The second is an Asian-Pacific economy governed by free-market principles. And the third is the settling of disputes based on the rule of law, not usurpation of land, military expansionism and conflict. The U.S.-Japan alliance is at the center of all three pillars.”
The White House also confirmed on Wednesday that President Obama told the Chinese officials that “he looks forward to welcoming [Chinese] President Xi Jinping to the White House for a State Visit in September.”