It is not fair to view the just concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam as a curtain-raiser for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and East Asia (EAS) summits in the Philippines from Nov. 12 to 14.
Both are highly important to the Asia-Pacific region, and both will impact the international community with their decisions and disagreements during the meetings.
It is only because of the calendar and the sequencing that APEC looks like a prelude to Asean 50 and the East Asia summit. The APEC ran from Nov. 10 to 11.
A more constructive view of the events is to say that the two meetings complement each other. If the first leaders’ meeting falls short of its high objectives, the second could serve as a means to iron out differences and restore momentum.
This constructive approach is needed now because the APEC summit ended yesterday on a note of divergence, rather than of consensus.
The biggest takeaways from Vietnam are: First, US President Donald Trump and China’s President XI Jinping offered sharply differing visions of the future of trade and globalization. And there is no prospect at this stage of the difference being harmonized; Second, after Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, which former president Barack Obama proposed, the 11 remaining proposed members of TPP pressed and signed at APEC a new trade pact, with the US excluded.
In back-to-back speeches to business leaders at the APEC summit, Xi and Trump competed for the region’s economic affections, with divergent blueprints of what the 21st Century economy should look like.
Trump’s speech catalogued the ills of globalization, saying too many countries had flouted the rules for years with impunity, harming American workers and US companies. “We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore,” Trump said.
Xi, on the other hand, said “the concept of globalization should pay more attention to openness and tolerance, while the direction should focus on balance.” China will “continue to build an open economy and work hard to achieve mutual benefits.”
The presidential messages are consistent with what the two leaders have been saying at home.
Trump trumpeted his signature campaign line of “America first” as his overriding foreign policy, and as the key for America to be “great again.” He proposed to work closely and trade with countries that will play by the rules and play fair.
Xi, for his part, continued his strategy to cast himself as a champion of global free trade.
The striking conclusion about the APEC summit is that most of the regional leaders did not buy into Trump’s message. Instead of adopting nationalism as their policy, most APEC countries pushed for more open trade.
Only Duterte echoed Trump’s nationalist line, when he lashed out against globalization in his APEC address.
However, the following day, DU30 urged closer collaboration between the Asean and the APEC to facilitate more open trade.
He suggested that Asean could serve as the “pathfinder” and “hub” for the Asia-Pacific region in line with efforts to promote regional economic integration.
Duterte is right in stressing that the present time is an important period for both APEC and Asean. Asean celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, while APEC is now looking toward its 30th anniversary in 2019.
APEC and Asean should explore how they can connect more deeply. This way, the Asia-Pacific region could find the path forward after the jarring clash of visions of the future at the APEC summit.