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The Time Is Right for An APEC Community

Oct 31 , 2014
  • Wang Yusheng

    Executive Director, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and is the second time that China will play host to the APEC leaders summit meeting.

China joined the APEC as a sovereign state in 1991, while Hong Kong and Taiwan joined the forum as member economies. China and APEC are inextricably linked. An APEC without China would not be worthy of its name, while China can’t do without APEC either.

Within the APEC forum, China has always been an equal partner and followed, defended and adhered to the basic principles of APEC. The principles also are the distinctive values of the APEC, namely, equal partnership, volunteerism, consensus building, openness and inclusiveness. APEC has strong and powerful members, but the forum has never categorized its members by their size and strength, and will never do so.

To further the commitment of APEC leaders to deepen the spirit of community in the Asia-Pacific region and work out two timetables for the Bogor Goals (trade and investment liberalization and facilitation), China has played a positive role in coordination; upheld the pragmatic and mutual-benefit principles; firmly opposed bullying by any power; and defended and safeguarded the interests of its members. And China has also played a positive role in steadily promoting trade and investment liberalization among APEC members.

In the past decade, international geopolitics and economics have undergone profound changes, reflected in APEC’s development. Despite various challenges and obstructions, however, APEC continues to stick to a shared vision and values — equal partnership, volunteerism, consensus building, openness and inclusiveness, trade and investment liberalization, and facilitation. And furthermore, APEC has also deepened its principles and values along with the changing times.

In the past two decades, APEC has made the following remarkable achievements:

First, at the Seattle meeting in 1993, the leaders committed to deepening the spirit of community in the Asia-Pacific region. It was a political guide for the direction of APEC’s development. At that time, however, due to premature conditions, many members, including China, did not have a good understanding of its importance and historical significance, and the idea of community championed by the United States failed to materialize. But now, the times have changed, and it is necessary to apply and deepen the initiative, which will be of enormous vitality and is line with the times.

Second, in 1994, Indonesia was the host country. After rounds of consultations and discussions, the leaders reached a consensus. They decided to pursue trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and agreed to achieve free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies, and by 2020 for developing economies (the Bogor Goals). The APEC leaders later adopted the Osaka Action Agenda, which states that all members must comprehensively and unconditionally implement the Bogor Goals, but allows some flexibility among the members, in case that they confront difficulties. This was the economic guide for the direction of trade and investment liberalization and cooperation among APEC members, and is also of far-reaching significance.

Third, the leaders worked out and announced the APEC approach in 1996, of recognizing the diversity of APEC members (different levels of economic and social development and different social systems, culture, history and religions), and allowing flexibility and gradual progress. Under the principles of volunteerism, consensus building, equality and mutual benefits, members could work out measures in accordance with their practical conditions to achieve shared strategic goals. At that meeting, the leaders announced a deepening of community spirit in the region, but they did not discuss what it actually entailed. The APEC approach is, in fact, an answer, and serves as the soul of the spirit of community.

These strategic achievements have served as a solid foundation for the development and international influence of APEC. And in reality, APEC functioned and progressed in the past decade under the guidance of these strategic achievements.

Consultation, coordination and cooperation have always been the themes of APEC, but this in no way implies that there were no hindrances or differences over the past 25 years. Because of different interests and strategic considerations among the member economies, it is only natural that there would be clashes and conflicts. The most noteworthy difference or hassle is what values APEC should uphold: an equal partnership or an APEC dominated by one or several members. Honestly speaking, industrialized members, the United States in particular, are not keen about the principles of equal partnership and volunteerism, and what they care about most is market access for their products, particularly their dominant roles. What they champion the most is exactly what the developing member economies like the least.

China plays host to the APEC leaders’ informal summit this year. Just as the theme of this year’s meeting implies, China is catering to the needs of the fast-changing times and is making fresh contributions to the development of this economic forum. The meeting will help promote APEC towards the creation of a free trade zone, and will help build a more prosperous APEC community.

The theme of this year’s APEC summit is “Shaping the Future Through Asia-Pacific Partnership.” APEC leaders will chart the policies and principles for APEC integration, push for the creation of a free trade zone, and work to speed up connectivity and innovative cooperation. They will not only push for a timely realization of the Bogor Goals, but also work to elevate trade and investment liberalization and facilitation.

Twenty years ago, the United States was enthusiastic about the creation of an APEC community, but its attempts failed because conditions were not ripe. Much has changed since then, and the conditions have now matured. Now it is the right time for building such a community. If the US does not support the plan, people will naturally ask: Has the United States changed its mind? The Americans should know: One or only a few flowers blossoming will not bring the charms of spring. What the world needs is a spring with all flowers blossoming and all plants growing, and a spring that brings about win-win cooperation and common prosperity for all.

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