From a nice analysis of Romney’s China policies:
In an oblique nod to the concerns of his backers, Romney has floated plans for a titanic Pacific economic engine to take away the downside of a trade war with China, at least in theory: a confrontational free-trade zone that will boost trade internally while sticking it to countries - like the PRC - that fail to display sufficient allegiance to open-market and free-trade principals.
This initiative appears to be nothing more than a clone of President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership. Romney's alternative has, to his mind, one unanswerable advantage: it is called "The Reagan Economic Zone" (REZ), bringing the irresistible posthumous charisma of the Republican Party's Great Communicator to bear on our overawed Asian trading partners.
Yes, the Reagan Economic Zone is a thing: the susceptible little yellow people will finally come round when we pay them in Ronnies.
The policy as a whole looks like a doubling down on the ‘Asia Pivot’, just as it threatens to unravel. In principle, competition for the support of the countries around China’s littoral could be no bad thing for those countries: Afghanistan was a lot better off when Daoud was "lighting American cigarettes with Russian matches". But in practice it seems to have suffered from being based on false premises, namely that all the relevant countries are intimidated by China’s claims and that all will therefore form a containing alliance against Beijing under US guidance.
Yet none have ever shown any indication that they are actually intimidated by China, rather than simply opposing it when they think it challenges their interests . Vigorous exchanges of views between representative fisherfolk and various coastguard vessels over disputed bits of sea and symbolic flag bearing raids and settlements on different atolls have been part of the regional choreography for years. Moreover, many of the nations involved also have claims against each other. The overall outcome has been an increasing cycle of claim and counter-claim; and one upshot of that is that Japan, the US’s major pacific ally, is now actively involved in four separate jurisdictional disputes, two of which are with fellow US allies. We’ve also discovered that there’s quite a bit of overt pro-China sentiment in ASEAN, in the form of Cambodia, Malaysia and maybe Indonesia, to which China has just agreed to sell ballistic missile technology.
I’m not by any means saying that China’s claims are justified. But it does seem to me that the region was managing its difficulties at an acceptable level of friction, until the US intervened. That’s when everything started to escalate. And Mitt promises more of the same, with added self-delusion. If Beijing was smart here, it could build a containing alliance by promoting the idea that US involvement brings nothing to the region but the heightened prospect of war. But that would probably mean giving up some of its own claims, so it’s not likely to happen.