Democracy in Asia the ‘unspoken issue’ in TPP agenda



The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a national security imperative that is likely to enhance prospects for advancing democracy in Asia, analysts suggest.

After World War II, the U.S., having learned a painful lesson, designed a new Pacific order. Japan and South Korea became advanced economies and democracies within a U.S. alliance framework, notes former World Bank president Robert Zoellick. The U.S. prospered as well, while the Soviet Union’s closed economy ultimately failed to support its massive military machine, he writes for The Wall Street Journal:

In the current issue of International Security, Nina Silove, an Australian scholar and fellow at Stanford University, traces how the Bush and Obama administrations sought to match China’s rise with innovations in technology and doctrine, new deployments, and deeper security networks in the region. Equally important, America’s Asia-Pacific allies and partners are expanding their expeditionary capabilities and ability to work with the U.S. and one another in combined operations.

U.S. security and prosperity in the Asia Pacific are underpinned by three pillars of our national strength, note several leading analysts, making the strategic case for TPP:

  • First, our network of bilateral alliances and our forward military presence in Japan and Korea reassure our friends and allies and deter potential adversaries who might threaten them or push security challenges across the Pacific toward our own homeland.
  • Second, our values reinforce support for an open regional and global order based on rule of law and accountability to the governed. Today a majority of states in the region identify with these democratic norms — a striking fact given that democracy existed only in Australia and the Philippines when the fighting in the Pacific ended in August 1945.
  • Third — and for many of our partners most important — is our commitment to expanding trade and economic cooperation. Americans learned in World War II that protectionist walls create dangerous blocs that fuel authoritarianism and weaken the positive influence of democratic norms and rule of law.

Democracy is the unspoken issue in the TPP agenda, according to Timothy J. Lynch, Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Melbourne.

The TPP is “the latest in a long line of US-led economic agreements that have sought to advance democracy if not by stealth then by a belief in its universality,” he contends. “An operating assumption of US foreign policy is the connection between free trade and freedom. The TPP intends to advance democracy not as a demand but as an inevitable outcome.”

The TPP supplies the economic foundation for this new Asia-Pacific security network. In this region, economics, trade and investment are the coins of the diplomatic realm, argues Zoellick, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

TPP recognizes both America’s concrete economic interests in Asia and demonstrates U.S. steadfastness. If the U.S. abandons TPP, our Asian allies and partners will perceive America as yielding to China, and they will accommodate accordingly.

Equally important, the economic principles and market openings implemented through TPP will help economic reformers across the region. Japan is relying on TPP to help drive competitive change in its aging economy. Vietnam is using TPP as an international legal framework for development. TPP will help Malaysia to move up the ladder of value-added production and services.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email