Chicago Journal of International Law

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed on February 5, 2016 by its twelve members and is now open for ratification. If ratified, the TPP will be the largest mega free trade area in history and will encompass forty percent of world trade. The U.S. led the TPP negotiations and deliberately excluded China from the negotiations. This ploy by the U.S. was a calculated effort to contain China and to shift power in trade in the Asia-Pacific from China to the U.S. China now appears to face a difficult choice. China can join the already concluded TPP, with its text largely drafted by the U.S., and submit to terms it had no part in negotiating and to a humiliating process of seeking approval from the U.S. Joining the TPP means accepting a treaty in which every major provision is directed at China in an attempt to contain China’s ascendancy in international trade. The other alternative is to ignore the TPP, but this could mean significant losses in trade opportunities right in China’s own neighborhood. The battle over the TPP is a major contest between the two countries to determine which will write the rules of international trade for the twenty-first century. On the one hand, the U.S. is determined to write the rules, which will have as their chief aim to contain China. On the other hand, China seeks to write the rules in a way that will benefit China at the expense of the U.S. This Article examines how the TPP is designed specifically to contain China and how China might respond to this challenge over who will write the rules of international trade and gain supremacy in trade in the twenty-first century.

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