Steer­ing APEC Through Tur­bu­lent Times

Beijing Review - - EDITOR’S DESK -

Thirty-eight per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, 60 per­cent of the global GDP and 47 per­cent of world trade. These fig­ures speak vol­umes of the strate­gic im­por­tance of the Asia-pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) mem­ber economies. They also un­der­pin the great di­ver­sity of this vast re­gion.

When lead­ers of the 21 economies met for the first time in the Pa­cific na­tion of Pa­pua New Guinea this year, they were aware of the changes that have taken place in the global eco­nomic land­scape. Hopes were high that they would en­gage in a for­ward-look­ing de­bate to ex­plore ways of ad­vanc­ing the well-be­ing of the re­gion and the world at large de­spite daunt­ing chal­lenges.

In­deed, there were con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions on topics rang­ing from a model eport net­work to a mul­ti­lat­eral trade sys­tem. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, for his part, con­trib­uted ideas on an open econ­omy, in­no­va­tion, in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity and part­ner­ships. One of the ex­am­ples that he cited was the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive pro­posed five years ago. The ini­tia­tive aims to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity along and beyond the an­cient Silk Road routes, open to all Asia-pa­cific coun­tries.

Pa­pua New Guinea signed a frame­work agree­ment on co­op­er­a­tion dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Peter O’neill’s visit to China in June. The two coun­tries have since co­or­di­nated closely on po­ten­tial ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion. A to­tal of 140 coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions have signed Belt and Road co­op­er­a­tion doc­u­ments with China, ev­i­dence of the ini­tia­tive’s wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity.

A salient fea­ture of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is its in­clu­sive­ness. It is de­signed nei­ther to serve any hid­den geopo­lit­i­cal agenda, nor ex­clude any­one, let alone be a “trap” as some crit­ics have claimed. In­stead, it in­tends to gen­er­ate shared ben­e­fits through con­sul­ta­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Dur­ing the APEC meet­ing, the United States lev­eled ac­cu­sa­tions against China con­cern­ing the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and bi­lat­eral trade, cast­ing a shadow over the talks. Ad­mit­tedly, China and the United States have a wide ar­ray of dif­fer­ences. But at a time when China is tak­ing steps to fur­ther open up its mar­ket and in­ject im­pe­tus to global trade and in­vest­ment, it was ill-ad­vised for the United States to play up their dis­putes at the APEC fo­rum. This hard­line ap­proach not only dam­ages mu­tual trust be­tween the world’s two largest economies but also runs counter to the APEC spirit.

At the APEC fo­rum, de­ci­sions are made by con­sen­sus among the mem­ber economies. This prin­ci­ple en­sures economies with vary­ing lo­cal con­di­tions have an equal say so that adopted de­ci­sions can be im­ple­mented vol­un­tar­ily. Given di­verse, and some­times con­flict­ing, in­ter­ests among par­ties in­volved, build­ing con­sen­sus on com­plex is­sues such as free trade and the re­form of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion can be an ar­du­ous process that calls for po­lit­i­cal wis­dom. But the prospect of reach­ing so­lu­tions ac­cept­able to all will prove well worth the ef­forts.

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