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Trump passes globalization's torch to an eager China

Looking to China to save the world from Donald Trump is no one's idea of progress, unless, of course, you're Xi Jinping seeking an image makeover as globalization's warm and fuzzy BFF.

That's what the Chinese President did to rousing applause before the titans of global capitalism gathered last week in Davos. You almost felt embarrassed for them as they grovelled before the autocratic head of an officially Communist nation that is globalization's biggest free rider.

Yet, this is where the world is at, especially now that the new U.S. President has taken what appears to be the irreversible step of pulling his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the delight of everyone from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to the Council of Canadians.

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No one is as delighted as Mr. Xi, however. The likely death of the TPP, the 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact that aimed to set the 21st century rules of the road of international commerce, fits in with the Chinese leader's grand plan of supplanting the United States as the indispensable nation with which Japan, Australia, and increasingly Canada, must curry favour.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his economic advisers, led by McKinsey & Co. China guru Dominic Barton, seem not to have a problem with this. They only see the upside of China's rise, as if its human-rights abuses, growing militarism and disregard for the rule of law aren't so bad. After all, hasn't China shown how responsible it is by stepping up as the leader on climate change as it embraces renewable energy and cancels plans to build 100 coal-fired power plants?

Mr. Xi has masterfully engaged in a massive green-washing exercise as United Nations climatecrats – desperate to portray UN-led multilateralism as a success – gush over China's signature on the Paris Accord and "commitment" to stabilize its carbon emissions by 2030. The truth is, China still consumes almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. And public outrage over air pollution is forcing the Communist regime to cancel new coal plants, not climate consciousness.

Besides, through its One Belt, One Road initiative, China is exporting its carbon-intensive economic growth model – based on coal, steel and cement – to much of the developing world in order to stoke growth at home. The latter is the key to keeping the lid on any political uprising.

This is the China on which the Davos crowd seemed so eager to confer legitimacy as it fretted about Mr. Trump. This is the China to which Mr. Trudeau seems so eager to hitch Canada's wagon in the Trump era. This is the China that will benefit most from Mr. Trump's isolationism.

"Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength," Mr. Trump insisted in his Orwellian inaugural address last week, without specifying whose. Now we know.

"Trashing Trans-Pacific Partnership is a big fat gift to China, a blow to key allies, and a huge loss for American global leadership. So Sad!," former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice tweeted this week, though, in truth, her former boss spent little political capital to save the deal.

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That's still more than the Trudeau government, which did not lift a finger to save the TPP. Indeed, on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland seemed particularly eager to bury the agreement even as Japan and Australia insisted on efforts to salvage it.

The TPP's death would leave its Chinese-led alternative – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – as the only game in town for Japan and Australia. They'd be forced to bind their economies to China's without the protection of a rules-based order to govern fair trade and investment flows or stop China's state-owned enterprises from distorting markets. They would be forced to accept China's military control over the Asia-Pacific region as a fait accompli.

Mr. Trump and his choice for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have muttered warnings to China about its military expansionism in the South China Sea. But Mr. Trump, who defines the U.S. national interest more narrowly than any president since Andrew Jackson in 1828, seems far more interested in deal-making among strongmen than asserting American leadership and spreading American values beyond his own country's increasingly closed borders.

Mr. Trump cares about short-term optics – repatriated factories filled with workers wearing Make America Great Again hats – not long-term geopolitics.

After all, après Trump and the TPP, c'est le déluge.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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