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APEC Summit and its “Fringe Benefits”

Updated On: Nov 21, 2006

The 14th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit closed on 19 November 2006 with a written and unwritten declaration.

The non-written declaration showed the continuing divide within the APEC membership over the purpose of the organisation- whether it remain an organisation for discussions on economic matters or one which embraces security and other matters. With the continuing drift of APEC, the leaders focused their energy on the bilateral and subregional meetings held on the side of the APEC summit. 

The Hanoi Declaration issued by the APEC leaders included a Hanoi Action Plan which was “intended to work out specific actions” to ensure that the implementation of the Bogor goals. The Hanoi Action Plan, however, does not provide an answer to the question of what the specific content of the Bogor goals (of “free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for developing economies”) are. Without knowing the end-point, it is not surprising the means spelled out in the Action Plan are also vague.

The APEC leaders also called for a resumption of talks on the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The Doha Round had stalled in July after the European Union and the United States could not come to an agreement over the amount of farm subsidies.

The US and Singaporean leaders failed to convince the other leaders to begin negotiating a Free Trade of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) but managed to include a line in the Declaration instructing officials to “undertake further studies on ways and means to promote regional economic integration, including a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific as a long-term prospect, and report to the 2007 APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Australia.”

The APEC leaders agreed to emphasise total supply chain security as a priority area in 2007. A study would be undertaken to look at the ways to “facilitate the recovery of trade in the event of major disruptions to the global supply chain caused by terrorist attacks or other calamities.”

Other than the written statement, the APEC leaders also made a verbal statement which was read within closed doors, calling on North Korea to abide by United Nations rules and to give up its nuclear ambition. The US had been pushing for the inclusion of the North Korean issue in the written statement but the move was opposed by many other APEC members. In his speech to the other APEC leaders, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi reiterated that the North Korean issue should be left for the United Nations Security Council to resolve.

As is the case with many of the summits involving Asian leaders, the various bilateral meetings held on the sideline of the summit seemed to be more substantive. The Chinese and Japanese Foreign Ministers, Li Zhaoxing and Taro Aso respectively, have agreed to set up a joint research panel comprising of two sub-committees to discuss their different perspectives of ancient history and modern history of Sino-Japanese relations. Analysts commented that there would be limits to what such a panel could accomplish. With the rising conservative tide in Japanese politics, and the Chinese proclivity for playing the historical card against Japan, it is unknown the extent to which the panel would help bridge the divide between both sides. A previous panel established in 2002 between South Korea and Japan helped improve mutual understanding but did not produce agreement between both sides.

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also announced plans for a trilateral meeting with South Korea and China on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in December. If this Northeast Asian summit does take place, it would be the first three way summit since 2005 when both Chinese and South Korean leaders boycotted the meeting with their Japanese counterparts over Koizumi’s visit to the Yasakuni Shrine.

The Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a bilateral meeting, speaking glowingly of their growing political cooperation. Both Chinaand Russia have found bilateral cooperation useful as a counter-balance to the US. For instance, both have opposed US-led pressure in the United Nations Security Council for a tough response to Iran’s nuclear programme and adopted cautious line on North Korea’s nuclear test last month. The Russians have also found the Chinese more than eager for its energy resources.

More importantly for ASEAN is the proposal for a ASEAN-US summit in 2007 to commemorate 30 years of ASEAN-US relations. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the proposal at a side meeting between the seven ASEAN members and the United States. Lee said that the summit would be a chance for the ASEAN members to have “some time and attention” of US President Bush and his key aides such as the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. If the summit goes ahead, it would be a politically powerful signal of the US’ commitment to the region.

Sources:

Abdullah: Get Doha Back on Track (New Straits Times, 20 November 2006)

APEC Sees World Trade Talks As the Way Out (New Straits Times, 20 November 2006)

China-Japan Research Panel to Hold Meeting (Straits Times, 20 November 2006)

Doha Talks Resumption Takes Centre Stage At APEC (Jakarta Post, 20 November 2006)

Call for Summit to Mark 30 Years of ASEAN-US Ties (Straits Times, 19 November 2006)

Japan’s Abe Unveils Plan for Summit with China, SKorea (Agence France Presse, 18 November 2006)