Obama Hails ‘Job-Creating’ Deals in Asia, As China Complains About Being ‘Encircled’

By Patrick Goodenough | November 21, 2011 | 5:06am EST

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the East Asia summit on the island of Bali, Indonesia on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama headed home from a nine-day Asia-Pacific trip highlighting deals that he said would support nearly 130,000 American jobs, while Chinese state media complained about an ambitious trade agreement widely seen as designed to isolate China.

In his weekly address, recorded in Indonesia where he was attending the East Asia Summit, Obama said agreements announced during the trip would help to create jobs and growth at home and “help us reach my goal of doubling American exports by 2014.”

He highlighted what he called “progress toward our most ambitious trade agreement yet – a partnership with Pacific nations that holds the potential for more exports and more jobs in a region of nearly three billion consumers.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- initially hammered out between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei in 2006 -- now has nine negotiating parties: The founding four plus the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam. Canada, Mexico and Japan have expressed interest in joining.

On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu last Saturday, the nine current partners settled the broad outlines of what the U.S. Trade Representative’s office described as “a landmark, 21st-century trade agreement, setting a new standard for global trade and incorporating next-generation issues that will boost the competitiveness of TPP countries in the global economy.”

The U.S. says TPP membership should be open, but requirements include labor and environmental standards and strong intellectual property enforcement – hurdles that China in particular would struggle to overcome.

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Other China-connected developments making headlines during Obama’s trip included a decision to station U.S. Marines in northern Australia and the boosting of military ties with the Philippines, one of several Southeast Asian countries embroiled in territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.

Chinese commentators characterized those moves and the TPP as part of a broader U.S. plan to counter and even “encircle” China.

“From strengthening military relations with allies to promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the U.S. attempts to press China are clear,” the Communist Party-linked Global Times said in an editorial Monday.

It said the intention to encircle China was evident, but concluded that it would not succeed.

“Even if the Philippines and Australia fully join the U.S. along with a few others, the forces intending to circle China still cannot have the desired impact,” it said.

“It is impossible to fully encircle China today. The U.S. does not have the strength to encircle China now.”

Tao Wenzhao, a researcher at the Center for China-U.S. Relations at Tsinghua University, said the U.S.’s aim with the TPP was believed to be “to contain a fast-growing China” and to maintain America’s “ebbing dominance in the region.”

Writing in the state-run China Daily, he said the preconditions laid down for TPP membership, including labor and environmental standards, would be “difficult for developing countries in the region to fulfill.”

Maritime wrangling

Navigation challenges in the South China Sea, a key trade waterway, featured prominently during the series of meetings and summits during Obama’s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tours in the region.

China has disputes in the sea with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, mostly relating to energy and other natural resources in areas where countries’ 200 nautical mile-wide exclusive economic zones (EEZs) overlap.

The Southeast Asian countries have sought U.S. and each other’s support, while China bitterly opposes “outside interference” and says the various disputes should be resolved bilaterally.

At the weekend East Asia Summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Obama insisted that the South China Sea issue be discussed, and received support from many of the other leaders present.

Beijing’s frustration was reflected in Chinese media’s criticism of the U.S. approach.

“That Asia-Pacific nations have managed to navigate their way around some otherwise divisive disputes and seek common prosperity is a precious achievement that should be cherished by all, including those that want to benefit from it,” China Daily said in an editorial on Monday.

“What the U.S. has so far brought to the region, however, has the potential to disturb this elusive and fragile achievement.”

It said Obama was “worrying too much” about supposed security concerns in the South China Sea.  “Just as Premier Wen Jiabao told Obama, China and its Asian neighbors are doing fine, and the shipping lanes in the South China Sea are ‘safe and free.’”

In a separate column in the paper, Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the U.S. was using the “freedom of navigation” issue in the South China Sea as a pretext to spy on China.

The 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea permits “freedom of navigation and overflight” in other countries’ EEZs. It says military activities inside a country’s EEZ must be “peaceful” and may not adversely affect the environment or economic resources of the coastal state.

Whether surveillance or surveying activities constitute “peaceful” acts is a matter of dispute, however.

“The U.S. uses freedom of navigation to justify its reconnaissance operations close to China’s territorial space and water,” Shen wrote, adding that China “can hardly accept the legitimacy of these espionage operations.”

“China will take all measures at its disposal to protect its core interests. For China’s EEZs, the country views them as its vital interests and, therefore, will take any necessary action to ensure that the freedom of navigation in these waters is truly peaceful.”

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