What a year.
2020 has been a year that none of us expected. International conferences, leaders summits, and negotiations — all went online. This has been truly a year that transforms the way we conduct diplomacy, international relations and affairs.
In the last days of 2020, why don’t we take a look and reflect on the landmark 2020 has been.
ASEAN signed the Largest Trade Agreement in the World
Not quite. It was actually not just ASEAN. It’s ASEAN, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. These 15 countries have negotiated a trade agreement — dubbed as the largest in the world — since 8 years ago. Why largest? China is part of it — itself already the biggest economy in the world and has the largest population in the world — Japan, South Korea, and the whole of ASEAN is part of it (Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world).
This agreement is known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP. India initially was part of this arrangement until it pulled out of the negotiation back in 2019. The remaining 15 nations kept moving forward with optimism. Though most of the hard work has been concluded by 2020, 2021 will (hopefully) witness more of the work related to the preparation of the agreement to take into effect.
Though India has been hesitant to join the agreement, the remaining 15 countries are still very much open with the possibility of India joining the agreement last minute — “until India is ready”. It reserved a clause to secure India’s place in the agreement without needing to go into hassle, as other countries outside the original 16 would be required to.
RCEP has been cricitized as “China-led” or “China-centered”. While one can argue that way, most ASEAN countries and its officials would not agree easily. They would insist that RCEP is “ASEAN-led” and “ASEAN-centered”. Only time will tell which one is true.
RCEP has been seen as well by scholars and observers as a way for China to flex its regional power — especially given that the United States under Donald Trump had been reluctant to take on the regional leadership role in the Asia-Pacific region. Now that Biden is back to the White House (currently as the President-elect), the United States should return to Asia-Pacific to resume its leadership in the region, and Joe Biden needs to ensure that the United States will join RCEP under his leadership.
This is especially true given that RCEP, together with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — another trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific, initially initiated by Obama under his leadership — are regarded by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as the foundations of the future Free Trade Agreement of Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP).
If Donald Trump pulled out of TPP in his first days in office, Joe Biden needs to rejoin TPP — or now, CPTPP, in his first days in office. The United States is now neither part of the two biggest economic agreement in the Asia-Pacific. This is a mistake. The United States should resume its leadership, especially given the fact that China is now part of the RCEP, and that China is “favorably considering” to join CPTPP. The United States should not miss out this opportunity.
America’s New President: Welcome Back, America!
In November 3, 2020, Americans across the country (and across the globe?) went to cast their vote. After weeks of turbulent uncertainties, we have the clear winner. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now the President-elect of the United States of America.
With a vast experience in foreign policy — both in the Senate and as a Vice President — we should expect a more familiar foreign policy. True that for the past four years, the rest of the world has been watching Trump’s foreign policy cautiously. And we have always expected the worst from Trump. But we should not deny the fact that in the past four years, Trump has done many breakthrough that previous American president did not dare to do — most of them are afraid that their popularity would plunge if they do anything unorthodox. Take the Middle East situation for example. Trump deserves a praise. The situation has been on a deadlock for decades. And Trump is the only actor in our International Relations history who has been able to turn the table.
That aside, Joe Biden has given a new hope to the world. He has promised that the United States will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords as soon as he is sworn in. He has prepared an Iran strategy — and many believe that he will rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal (which has seemed more or less impossible by today’s measures).
In climate leadership, he has pledged that America will go carbon-neutral by 2050 — a step that he promised “any presidents after him would not be able to reverse”. This is a good sign. The European Union and China — two other biggest emitters in the world has also promised the same. This, together with Japan and South Korea, should be a breath of a fresh air to all of us. The question remains for developing countries like India, Indonesia, and other — do we dare to make similar pledge?
But most importantly, in defining the American leadership in the world, Joe Biden should not forget the leadership role that America needs to play in the realm of trade. Besides RCEP and CPTPP, Joe Biden needs to bring America to resume the talk on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Europe has secured similar trade agreement with Canada and Japan. America is missing out so much by not having such an agreement with Europe.
We Have A Deal: Merry Brexmas!
We finally have a deal. After four and a half years of uncertainty, the United Kingdom finally struck a deal with the European Union on their divorce.
Now, British nationals wishing to go to the European Union for more than 90 days in a 180 days period would be required to get visa. Thanks to UK’s insistence too, now three out of four countries in the UK will not be subject to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). However, Northern Ireland, which remains under EU single market and customs union, will still be subject to ECJ ruling. In fishing too, the United Kingdom is losing. It proposed to cut 80% of EU catch in UK waters. It only got 25% cut.
And remember, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is not only in trade, but security too! That is also affected by Brexit. And do not forget the status of Gibraltar, a tiny British exclave located on the tip of a Spanish cape. All in all, the United Kingdom is losing. This is not to mention that for the past four and a half years, we have seen the news that more and more people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London want to break off from the United Kingdom. Yes. London. You read it right. So is Brexit the end of the United Kingdom? Only time will tell. One thing that we should remember: Westminster promised that the Scottish second independence referendum would not take place until Brexit is settled. Now Brexit is settled. We should expect in 2021 that the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) will gear up to beg for a second referendum to Westminster.