In His Last Tour of Asia, Obama Pushes Trade and the Environment

By Lyndsey Cole
Staff Writer

 The beginning of September brought much attention to United States relations with Asia, facilitated by both the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Hangzhou, China, from September 4 to September 5, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Laos from September 6 to September 8. President Barack Obama was in attendance at both events, working to bring attention to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and combating climate change with Asian industrial nations.

An integrated economy was a focal point for leaders at the G-20 summit. “The path of world economic development shows that openness brings progress and isolation leads to backwardness,” said President Xi Jinping of China in his keynote speech. “To repeat the beggar-thy-neighbor approach will not help any country get out of the crisis or recession. It only narrows the space for common development in the world economy and will lead to a ‘lose-lose’ scenario.”

Increased trade openness and decreased protectionism is seen by China as an investment in the economic infrastructure of not only their own nation, but in all nations as a whole. With backlash from China and other nations as well as from U.S. politicians, President Obama has had a difficult time promoting the Trans-Pacific trade deal, according to the New York Times. The deal, currently between 12 nations, is the largest regional trade accord in history and would serve to lower tariffs between the U.S. and Pacific Rim states while combating China’s growing influence in the area.  

In addition, the TPP will impose exhaustive labor and environmental standards on all participating nations. As reported by the Washington Post, President Obama’s goal with the TPP is to allow the United States, not China, to be the leader in trade, while also imposing an American standard for environmental regulation. China thus far has been on board with many of the United States’ environmental policies.

Reuters reports that, ahead of the G-20 summit in Hangzhou, both the U.S. and China ratified earlier this year the agreement drafted at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. As the world’s largest economies and the countries that produce the most carbon emissions, the ratification was a major step in the fight against climate change. 150 countries have signed the agreement so far and it is expected to go into full effect within a year.

At the ASEAN summit, climate change was again brought to the forefront as an example of cooperation between the United States and China. President Obama, however, continues to battle with foreign leaders on the TPP, as they are unsure if the U.S. will remain a reliable partner after he leaves office. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the presidential nominees of the two major American parties, have spoken in opposition of the deal, leaving the participating nations in uncertainty.

According to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, the TPP represents an American rebalance toward Asia and will include 12 nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. It will eliminate tariffs and other protectionist measures with the goal of creating jobs and increasing living standards in all member nations. The council, however, has also cautioned that “looking ahead, it will be critical for the United States to continue to include economic related initiatives to demonstrate its support for the cohesiveness of ASEAN and the success of the ASEAN economic community as an important strategic and economic partner.”

Lyndsey Cole

Lyndsey Cole is a freshman pursuing a degree in Diplomacy and International Relations with a minor in Russian and Eastern European Studies. Her interests include domestic and foreign politics, human rights, photography, and literature. Lyndsey is working to become fluent in Russian and plans to travel and capture cultural perspectives through photographs. She plans to work in government in the future.

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