US-China ri­valry, Paris at­tack in fo­cus at APEC

Lead­ers meet un­der ex­tra-heavy se­cu­rity in Manila

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA, Philip­pines: Ten­sions with China and the Paris at­tacks could up­stage trade is­sues at the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion sum­mit, be­ing held un­der ex­tra-heavy se­cu­rity in the Philip­pine cap­i­tal this week. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and the lead­ers of China, Ja­pan, Mex­ico and other na­tions in the 21mem­ber APEC bloc are con­verg­ing with 7,000 of­fi­cials, CEOs and other par­tic­i­pants at a con­ven­tion cen­ter by Manila Bay.

The meet­ings cul­mi­nate in a 2-day sum­mit of lead­ers be­gin­ning tomorrow. Rus­sia’s pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, is skip­ping the Manila meet­ings, partly to fo­cus on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Oct. 31 crash of a Rus­sian pas­sen­ger jet in Egypt that killed all 224 peo­ple on board. He will be rep­re­sented by Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev. In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo will likely stay home to deal with do­mes­tic prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to Philip­pine of­fi­cials.

Founded in 1989 in Can­berra, Aus­tralia, APEC aims to de­mol­ish bar­ri­ers to trade and in­vest­ment through non­bind­ing ac­cords. The un­wieldy group­ing of coun­tries and self-gov­ern­ing ter­ri­to­ries that range from lib­eral democ­ra­cies to dic­ta­tor­ships ac­counts for 3 bil­lion peo­ple, half of global trade and 60 per­cent of world GDP. Crit­ics say APEC, which has fo­cused mainly on eco­nomic and trade is­sues, has few con­crete achieve­ments be­cause of its non­bind­ing sta­tus. They dub it a talk shop and joke the acro­nym means “A Per­fect Ex­cuse to Chat.” But pro­po­nents be­lieve those qual­i­ties are its strengths.

“That’s ex­actly the beauty of APEC, you don’t have to worry about com­mit­ting your­self to any­thing be­cause it’s non-bind­ing,” said Philip­pine Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Ce­sar Purisima. “It gives lead­ers the free­dom to bounce ideas, new ideas.”

Though mem­bers tend to shy away from di­vi­sive se­cu­rity and geopo­lit­i­cal is­sues, rifts and po­lit­i­cal strife of­ten over­shadow the an­nual show of unity that is sym­bol­ized by the photo-op of lead­ers dressed in quirky or tra­di­tional shirts pro­vided by the host coun­try. Fri­day’s at­tacks in Paris that killed at least 129 peo­ple have al­ready cre­ated a dilemma for APEC. The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the at­tacks on a sta­dium, a con­cert hall and Paris cafes.

Be­hind closed doors, se­nior di­plo­mats were di­vided over whether to is­sue a state­ment on the at­tacks or let each leader speak on his or her own. The com­pro­mise: a para­graph on ter­ror­ism is be­ing added to the APEC sum­mit state­ment. One diplo­mat re­jected any men­tion of the at­tacks in the state­ment, fear­ing it would draw the Is­lamic State group’s at­ten­tion to APEC, said a South­east Asian diplo­mat who at­tended the meet­ings. The diplo­mat spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the con­ver­sa­tions were not in­tended to be pub­lic.

The diplo­mat said the United States wanted a strongly worded re­sponse and APEC’s re­sponse could still change when the lead­ers meet. They have a prece­dent. APEC lead­ers is­sued a state­ment in Shang­hai in Oc­to­ber 2001 to con­demn the at­tacks in the U.S. the month be­fore and vowed to help com­bat ter­ror­ism.

In­clud­ing any se­cu­rity-re­lated topic in APEC’s for­mal talks is touchy for China, which fears that could pave the way for dis­cus­sion of ter­ri­to­rial con­flicts in the South China Sea. Beijing says the dis­putes are an Asian prob­lem that out­siders such as the US have no busi­ness dab­bling in.

The Philip­pines has been the most out­spo­ken among five APEC gov­ern­ments that have for­mal ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with Beijing in the South China Sea. Yes­ter­day, as eco­nomic min­is­ters met ahead of the sum­mit, anti-Chi­nese pro­test­ers burned a Chi­nese flag to vent their anger over the ter­ri­to­rial stand­off.

“Boy­cott all China prod­ucts,” said a ban­ner at the protest, which took place out­side the US Em­bassy in Manila - not in front of the Chi­nese Em­bassy. China’s top diplo­mat, Wang Yi, vis­ited Manila last week and asked the Philip­pines not to raise such con­tentious is­sues dur­ing the APEC sum­mit for the sake of the “po­lit­i­cal dig­nity” of Xi’s visit, Philip­pine di­plo­mats said.

China and the US are con­stantly jock­ey­ing for eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal clout in the re­gion, dur­ing APEC sum­mits and other oc­ca­sions, and at the mo­ment Xi is bat­tling head­winds given the fric­tion over ter­ri­to­rial spats. Mas­sive Chi­nese con­struc­tion work aimed at turn­ing seven dis­puted South China Sea reefs into is­lands that could be used mil­i­tar­ily have raised alarm. In con­trast, two US mil­i­tary pa­trols in seas claimed by China, in­clud­ing flights last week by a pair of B-52 bombers near the ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands, were wel­comed by Amer­ica’s al­lies in Asia.

“The US im­age in the re­gion is again on the rise and China’s has taken a bit of a bat­ter­ing due to its ac­tions in the South China Sea, the slow­ing growth of its econ­omy,” said Mal­colm Cook of the In­sti­tute for South­east Asian Stud­ies in Sin­ga­pore. The re­cent suc­cess in wrap­ping up pro­tracted talks on a free­trade deal called the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship has also boosted Obama’s pres­tige, said Ernie Bower, di­rec­tor of the South­east Asia pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

The deal in­cludes the US and 11 other Pa­cific Rim coun­tries, but not China. “Obama and the White House have done ev­ery­thing they need to do to be well pre­pared for a strong Asia trip,” Bower said. “Obama will be re­ceived in Manila as an Amer­i­can leader who ‘gets Asia’ and is em­pha­siz­ing US longterm in­ter­ests.” — AP

— AFP

MANILA: Del­e­gates at­tend Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) Min­is­te­rial Meet­ing (AMM) in Manila yes­ter­day. The Philip­pines put its mil­i­tary and po­lice on full alert and vowed to up­grade se­cu­rity for world lead­ers meet­ing in Manila af­ter gun­men killed more than 120 peo­ple in Paris.

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