• A chance for APEC to make an impact

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    In light of the Paris terror attacks

    The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila falls between two other politically charged major events: the meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) nations in Turkey on Nov. 15 and 16, and the Asean summit in Kuala Lumpur at the end of this week (Nov 19 to 22).

    The terrorist shocker attack on Paris last Friday already pushed everything else off the agenda of the G20 summit, and may figure prominently as well in discussions at both the APEC and the Asean meetings.

    What impact that incident in Paris will have on the APEC leaders’ summit and the meetings leading up to it this week is still an open question, but at least one expert sees it as a potential catalyst for positive action: a renewed commitment to regional cooperation and an energized sense of unity.

    As France and the rest of the world mourn, and Parisians try to make sense of the numbing aftermath of the bombings and indiscriminate firing of deadly assault rifles by seven ISIS terrorists that claimed the lives of at least 129 people and wounded
    more than 350 others, an analyst examines the silver lining from this dark evolution of extremist violence. Its ramifications for the greater good depend on the various heads of state present.

    International economic law expert Jemy Gatdula of the University of Asia and the Pacific School of Law and Governance noted that “the Paris attacks may serve as an impetus to get things done” when it comes to counter terrorism.

    “The attacks in Paris need not overshadow the APEC meeting. Rather, it should spur APEC leaders to recognize the reality of Islamic extremism and unite in eradicating it,” said Gatdula.

    There is a time for mourning and commiseration, but the proper response for the heads of state is to take a definitive stance and allow the horrors of terrorism that happened in Paris on Friday to serve as a positive catalyst to act more cohesively by really pursuing regional cooperation and an energized sense of unity in the long standing fight against extremism.

    Gatdula pointed out that much of the actual work of APEC has already been done through the smaller, more focused meetings on trade and economic issues that have been conducted throughout the year. “[The APEC leaders’ summit] are highly coordinated diplomatic affairs, and whatever substantial thing will come out of it would have been threshed out long ago at lower level meetings,” he said.

    The US State Department’s point man on APEC affairs, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Matthews summarized some of the APEC year’s accomplishments in a briefing earlier this month: A commitment from the APEC economies to reduce tariffs on 54 environmental goods and services; reducing trade barriers for health care products; progress in reducing marine pollution; improved coordination in disaster preparedness and response; and some progress in improving working conditions for women.

    “We see APEC being able to move forward on all these fronts because it’s an incubator for new ideas, for innovative approaches, and for tackling challenges in the region that other folks haven’t thought of or tried before. That’s facilitated, as I said, by the level of frank and open discussion that we can have in APEC,” Matthews said.

    Accomplishments

    Given the nature of the leaders’ summit, the consensus among analysts is that the most substantial outcome will simply be endorsement of the earlier, smaller-scale initiatives, with little that has not already been done being introduced. Because of the scale of APEC – the 21 member economies encompass about 54 percent of the world economy.

    That would still represent significant progress, progress that could, as UA&P’s Gatdula suggested, be pursued with greater vigor behind the unifying force of a common challenge like the rapid spread of violent extremism.

    That kind of encouragement may be vital, because as Matthews explained in the briefing, APEC does not have any sort of binding provisions to ensure measures discussed are actually carried out, but rather relies purely on consensus among the member states.

    Political grandstanding

    Territorial disputes with China over the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) are likely to be a significant discussion topic when Asean leaders gather in Malaysia, but appear to be off the table as far as the APEC summit is concerned.

    The Aquino Administration has already said it does not plan to raise the issue of its maritime dispute with China at the APEC summit.

    In a media briefing on November 2, Matthews dismissed questions about the issue. “I have nothing for you on the South China Sea, except I would just reiterate that APEC is an organization that focuses on economic issues.”

    Taiwan, another claimant in the territorial dispute, said in several statements to the media last week that it did not expect the matter to be raised, although it would be prepared to “reiterate its position” if necessary.

    With the practical work already largely, the APEC Leaders’ Meeting is likely to feature the sort of sovereign-level self-promotion that has characterized the event in previous years.

    The summit’s two heavyweights, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, are expected to highlight their competing visions of regional trade, the newly-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) led by the US, and China’s proposed Free Trade Area for the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which until now has gotten little attention.

    Newly-minted Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau of Canada and Malcolm Turnbull of Australia will be enjoying a coming-out party of sorts, and will have the opportunity to introduce economic policy matters close to their hearts. In a press conference prior to departing for the G20 meeting, Trudeau, said he intends to focus on strengthening the global middle class, while Turnbull is expected to hold forth on renewable energy and the digital economy.

    Among the smaller economies, the focus will most likely be on deepening political and economic ties to the developed economies. Former Taiwan Vice President Vincent Siew, who will be representing President Ma Ying-jeou said last Wednesday his directives are to seek Taiwan’s inclusion in the TPP and the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), while Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to call for greater environmental cooperation and assistance from the developed economies in light of the recent months-long haze crisis that severely affected Malaysia and neighboring countries.

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