The economic costs of ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement are substantial, but there are geopolitical costs as well. TTP was designed to cement an Asian alliance to contain a rising and yet still communist China. Trade agreements often have political as well as economic purposes. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was initially a Cold War instrument. Its core members were originally those of the anti-communist alliance. Growing their economies faster helped the West have more resources to contain the Soviet bloc. But it also brought officials and citizens of these nations into more common enterprises, promoting their overriding common purpose.
An international trade legal regime is one of the most effective soft power methods of containing adversaries. For instance, in the case of TTP we not only strengthened our alliances but provided incentives to China to open up its economy, if it wanted to become a member. A more open economy provides a long-run counterweight to the Communist Party and foreign adventurism. When we give up such tools, we are left with less palatable alternatives—using more military force or pursuing a balance of power diplomacy. Both require sacrifices.
President Trump’s Secretary of State designate has already suggested that the administration may be inclined to a more robust military approach to China.