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What This APEC Summit Tells Us

Dec 01 , 2015
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Like the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meetings in the past, the 23rd session left a long memorable aftertaste.

There was a richer atmosphere for ‘inclusion’. ‘Building inclusive economies’ was the main theme of the meeting. The pursuit of inclusiveness is actually linked to the evolution of APEC itself. It has developed from a pure economic forum to a strategic one crossing over many related topics in regional economy, trade, diplomacy and security.

In the economic field, the meeting reiterated the importance of inclusive economic development, reconfirmed that fighting poverty remains an important talking point for countries in the Asia Pacific region, and stressed once again the need for economic policy coordination and cooperation in view of the risks confronting world economy. The meeting also generated positive feedback about the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) roadmap formulated at the Beijing Summit last year.

Politically, the meeting strongly condemned various forms of terrorism and stressed the urgency and necessity for the international community to get united and cooperate against this threat.

At all summits, APEC members accumulate experience, sum up lessons learned, expand common understanding and strive for effectiveness. The progress and depth of economic cooperation are determined by the level of mutual trust and inclusiveness. This most recent meeting has undoubtedly registered new steps forward on the basis of the 2014 Beijing meeting.

There was increasing urgency for ‘coordination’. APEC members are vastly different from one another in level of development and size of economy. The advancement of economic cooperation requires open mechanisms and flexible pathways. APEC has constantly promoted economic cooperation between members with open minds, contributing to the economic growth and vitality in the Asia Pacific.

It is noteworthy that by September 2014 there were already 49 regional trade agreements (RTAs) between APEC members, most of which included trade liberalization in commodities and services. Since May 2006, the TPP, a free-trade arrangement in APEC, has also been gradually expanding. People may wonder about the relationship between TPP, RCEP and APEC. According to one commentary, the US dominates the TPP to divide APEC, with no real embrace of free trade at all. China on the other hand made it clear that it was open towards the TPP and would be happy to see its success and that it did not believe the American government would not welcome Chinese participation in TPP.

This year APEC leaders repeated their goal of advancing FTAAP and spoke positively of the Beijing summit’s proposal to formulate a roadmap. The meeting stressed that FTAAP need to merge with sub-regional FTAs, believing that the latter would be a pathway to FTAAP. As the TPP negotiation has been completed, leaders expressed the hope that RCEP would also make progress at an early date. The RCEP and TPP are considered as two stages on the way to FTAAP based on APEC.

In terms of ‘leadership’, China-US relations were given more attention. Regrettably, there has been a fairly popular view on China-US competition for dominance. Some analysts believe that in the future Asia Pacific order, China will dominate regional economic relations while the US will dominate the security order.

As a matter of fact, China’s two-way trade volume with APEC members exceeded that of the US for the first time in 2013. However, the share of APEC members in China’s total trade is lower than that of the US. A higher bilateral trade volume is not sufficient to prove China’s dominance in regional economic development. For other APEC economies, the US remains in an advantageous position in trade and investment.

Both China and the US are countries with major influence in the Asia Pacific. APEC has also promoted development of relations between these two countries with greater communication, information exchange and mutual understanding. As the two countries are at different stages of development, they enjoy far more complementarities than competition.

Great attention was paid to ‘security’. As an economic organization interested in trade and investment liberalization issues, APEC was not about security. However, since 2001, global terrorism has become an issue of common concern in the Asia Pacific region.

Today terrorism has become rampant and ISIS poses a threat to all countries and their people in the world. The recent APEC summit expressed a great indignation at terrorism. It also rightly pointed out that terrorism must not be allowed to threaten our conviction in free and open economies and that economic growth, prosperity and opportunities are among the most effective measures to fundamentally remove the soil for terrorism or extremism.

The Chinese side firmly supports the relevant UN Security Council resolution and has proposed to establish an international united front against terror.

Countries look forward to a ‘bright future’. In their declaration, APEC economic leaders reiterated their commitment to strengthening the rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system, to achieving the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment by 2020 and to the eventual realization of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The declaration echoed the series of propositions by President Xi Jinping and once again demonstrated China’s role as an unswerving participant and mover in cooperation in the Asia Pacific region.

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