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Japan Must Stop the ‘Gray Rhino’ from Trampling on the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact

China is running amok, leveraging its enormous economic power to overcome the hurdles of joining CPTPP. Japan should push for the United States’ return to the partnership.



Gray Rhino at Werribee Open Range Zoo, Australia. Photo by Wj32)


The term “black swan” was used in a recent Sankei column to describe an unthinkable event that has a huge impact on society. The global coronavirus pandemic is one such example.

The term “gray rhino” is a companion word to the phrase “black swan.” It is often used in international finance as a metaphor for a problem that is highly likely to occur but often ignored. Nothing is odd about rhinos being gray, and they are naturally calm creatures. But it’s impossible to control them once they go on a stampede.

Chinese President Xi Jinping

One such gray rhino has begun making its move on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an agreement originally promoted by the United States’ Obama administration to contain China’s influence. The United States withdrew from the partnership under the unilateralist Trump administration, and a major partnership agreement between 11 countries was ratified under Japan’s leadership.

Unsurprisingly, China seized the opportunity offered by the absence of the United States. China’s application to join was completely foreseeable — President Xi Jinping was already announcing his interest in joining by November last year.

In fact, concerns have been raised for some time about whether China could comply with the stringent trade rules that the CPTPP requires of all members. Moreover, joining requires the unanimous approval of member countries. In China’s case, it’s unlikely that Australia will approve, considering the deepening conflict between the two countries. 

Nevertheless, China has decided that it can overcome the hurdles by leveraging its enormous economic power as a weapon. An alarmed Taiwan, which had long expressed its eagerness to join, immediately applied to join in defiance of China. Taipei’s timing was prompted by the fact that, if China joins first, Taiwan will be turned away at the door.

The situation is becoming increasingly critical as the United Kingdom continues its negotiations to join the pact. Japan must stop the “gray rhino” from running amok and also push for the United States to return. 

The next administration is bound to face a baptism of fire. 


(Read the Sankei Shimbun opinion article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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