Former US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang during the US - China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing. Photo: Saul Loeb

Obama administration secretary of state John Kerry said on Friday that not only should the US join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, but it should also be involved in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Belt and Road Initiative.

“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 quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying.

Kerry’s comments were not only a swipe at what many consider a more isolationist approach from the Trump administration, but also an exercise in wishful thinking. The TPP was so politically toxic in the 2016 presidential elections that one of its chief proponents, Hillary Clinton, was forced to awkwardly pivot to opposition to the deal in her bid to win the Democratic nomination. By many accounts, Trump’s strident opposition to the deal helped him with the nomination of a Republican Party once seen as more supportive of such trade agreements.

Hillary Clinton’s successor as America’s top diplomat, Kerry also urged greater engagement with China, in contrast to the Obama administration’s policy.

“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.

The Obama administration was caught flat-footed after the success the AIIB saw in attracting US allies as members, despite Washington’s desperate push to discourage them from joining.

Though China welcomed Trump’s move to pull out the TPP, which was seen as part of a US effort to contain China, the current administration has given mixed signals, at best, in its willingness to engage in Chinese-led institutions.

AIIB President Jin Liqun met with Trump administration officials in April of last year, and chief Asia foreign policy advisor Matt Pottinger attended the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing, but statements from the administration have not been particularly warm.

Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson notably accused China of undermining the international rules-based order with “predatory economics.” Trump’s recently released National Security Strategy also represented a departure from previous administrations in its labeling of China as a strategic competitor.