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US would become involved in the China-led Belt and Road Initiative

John Kerry, the former United States secretary of state, said on Friday that the US would, in time, rejoin the Trans Pacific Partnership, and that he hoped it would become involved in the China-led Belt and Road Initiative, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

“When the US withdrew from TPP, I believe that was a moment of leadership given away, for nothing, not even for a better deal,” said Kerry at the UBS Wealth Insights conference in Hong Kong, at a time of heightened tensions between President Donald Trump’s administration and China, with some observers predicting a trade war.

“I have urged the TPP 11 to go forward with the agreement, and I believe this moment will pass, the politics will change and the US will be able to come back to that agreement.”

Kerry was an important architect of the TPP, a trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries from which Trump withdrew the US in January last year.

 The other 11 are continuing with the plan.

“The fact that there are 11 other countries willing to put the finishing touches to the deal tells you something about the scale of the opportunity my country has chosen to miss by walking away,” Kerry said.

“Meanwhile China is filling the vacuum.” Under former president Barack Obama, the US set out to engage more in the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the so called pivot to Asia strategy, of which the TPP was an important component.

As well as withdrawing from the TPP, Trump has tried to pursue a more isolationist approach to international affairs and a more protectionist stance when it comes to trade, particularly in trade with China.

Daniel Russel, the former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the South China Morning Post’s China conference on Thursday that following this decision Trump might soon take executive action against China in the form of punitive tariffs, which would inevitably set in motion a cycle of retaliation from Beijing.

In contrast to Trump’s approach, Kerry urged the US to be more involved in China-led trade initiatives in the region. “We [the US and China] should be partners. I should like to see us be involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and I said that to President Xi [Jinping], but somehow we got off track,” he said.

Kerry did also add a note of caution about the geopolitical and economic implications of the scheme. “Through the Belt and Road Initiative China is rapidly expanding its influence and enmeshing nearby countries in a net of roads, ports and waterways and also debts,” he said, citing the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota as an example.

Last week, Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the running of the port to conglomerate China Merchants Port Holdings as part of a deal in which Chinese loans to Sri Lanka were transferred into an equity stake in the port.

“Now China is extending the Belt and Road Initiative to the Pakistani port of Gwadar through the China Pakistan economic corridor.”

“Clearly the goal to dominate the Indian Pacific trade routes,” Kerry said.

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