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Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The largest free trade area in the world came into existence over the weekend — and the U.S. was not even invited.

Why it matters: For the first time in living memory, the hegemon at the center of a major global free trade agreement is not the U.S.

  • China has stepped into Uncle Sam's shoes, and now anchors the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP, an area covering 2.2 billion people and 1/3 of all the economic activity on the planet.

The big picture: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to seek a broad multilateral alliance to pressure China on everything from trade to human rights once he becomes president. But China is making broad multilateral alliances of its own.

  • RCEP includes rich democracies such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia. Their position in this major free trade area will make it that much harder for Biden to unite them against China.

Flashback: The Obama administration was explicit that the U.S. should be the anchor of a Pacific Rim trade agreement, the TPP, that pointedly excluded China.

  • "China is negotiating a trade deal that would carve up some of the fastest-growing markets in the world at our expense," wrote then-President Obama in 2016.
  • That trade deal is now reality, while America has pulled out of the TPP. There is very little chance that the U.S. will rejoin it under Biden's presidency.

The bottom line: Big new trade pacts are extremely difficult to negotiate. China showed real determination in getting this one done, even as the U.S. demonstrated almost no interest in improving or even maintaining economic relations with the region. China's partners in RCEP are likely to remember for many years which of the two giants was more reliable.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - World

Former Google CEO and others call for U.S.-China tech "bifurcation"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new set of proposals by a group of influential D.C. insiders and tech industry practitioners calling for a degree of "bifurcation" in the U.S. and Chinese tech sectors is circulating in the Biden administration. Axios has obtained a copy.

Why it matters: The idea of "decoupling" certain sectors of the U.S. and Chinese economies felt radical three years ago, when Trump's trade war brought the term into common parlance. But now the strategy has growing bipartisan and even industry support.

Educators face fines, harassment over critical race theory

People talk before the start of a rally against critical race theory being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Elementary school teachers, administrators and college professors are facing fines, physical threats, and fear of firing because of an organized push from the right to remove classroom discussions of systemic racism.

Why it matters: Moves to ban critical race theory are raising free speech concerns amid an absence of consistent parameters about what teachings are in or out of bounds.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

1 dead after pickup truck hits Pride spectators in Florida

Police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

A driver in a pickup truck hit spectators at a Pride festival in Wilton Manors, Florida, killing a man and leaving another person hospitalized Saturday, authorities said.

Details: Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told reporters police had "apprehended the driver" and that the vehicle missed a parade car carrying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) "by inches."