LEADERS of the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) on Thursday called for more global cooperation in the struggle against terrorism as a wave of deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group dominated the final day of what was supposed to be a summit heavy on trade, not political, issues.
The specter of terrorism has hung heavily over the gathering in Manila, with Russia (an APEC member) and France and Lebanon (non-members) all reeling from devastating assaults on their citizens that the IS group said it carried out.
In the Manila Declaration, the APEC leaders “strongly condemn” all forms and acts of terrorism, citing the downing of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula and terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.
“Under the shadow cast by the terrorist attack against the Russian aircraft over Sinai, and the attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, we strongly condemn all acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all their forms and manifestations,” the leaders said in the declaration released on Thursday afternoon.
“We will not allow terrorism to threaten the fundamental values that underpin our free and open economies. Economic growth, prosperity and opportunity are among the most powerful tools to address the root causes of terrorism and radicalization. We stress the urgent need for increased international cooperation and solidarity in the fight against terrorism,” they added.
Earlier in the day, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke out to condemn the murder of a Chinese hostage by the Islamic State, which also claimed to have killed a Norwegian.
“Terrorism is the common enemy of human beings,” Xi said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.
The APEC leaders gathered at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City (Metro Manila) on Wednesday morning to begin a two-day meeting intended to further boost economic and trade relations among members.
The meeting’s official agenda is centered on trade, business and economic concerns but terrorism is also in focus.
The economic leaders collectively made nine commitments in the Manila Declaration:
1) To support comprehensive and ambitious structural reforms; achieve positive economic, social and environmental outcomes; and promote good governance;
2) To deepen our financial markets and mitigate risks;
3) To foster an enabling trading environment that is responsive to new ways in which goods and services are produced and delivered and that promotes inclusiveness, especially for micro, small and medium enterprises;
4) To build sustainable and disaster-resilient communities;
5) To make urbanization work for growth;
6) To redouble our efforts to empower our people with the tools to benefit from and participate in economic growth;
7) To achieve our vision for an integrated community in a comprehensive and systematic manner;
8) To develop the services sector as an enabler of economic growth and inclusion; and
9) To work with stakeholders to address common challenges.
These commitments, however, are not legally binding as decisions made in APEC meetings are voluntary.
Also, the commitments face the challenge of APEC’s economic and geographic diversity.
APEC’s 21 members range from developing to developed economies spanning four different continents.
“Given our diversity, our achievements thus far in APEC provide a benchmark for how, through cooperation, we can advance regional economic integration and achieve shared prosperity. Building on our achievements, we commit to engage in an enhanced degree of cooperation within and across our economies with a broad range of stakeholders,” the APEC leaders said.
“We reaffirm the need to have a well-coordinated and whole-of-government approach to rule-making in our economies. This should rely on an open and inclusive public consultation processes involving the full range of domestic and international stakeholders,” they added.
The annual APEC gathering is meant to forge trade unity but often finds itself sidetracked by other events.
This week, US President Barack Obama has sought to bolster allies locked in a territorial row with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), home to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
The Islamic State group was also a top concern when Obama met newly-elected Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau at the sidelines of the summit.
Trudeau, who has vowed to pull out Canada’s fighter jets from Iraq and Syria, said his country would remain “a strong member of the coalition” against the IS group.
Obama, meanwhile, reiterated his demand that Syria’s civil war would only end if Russia-backed Bashar al-Assad left power.
“I do not foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power,” he told reporters after meeting with Trudeau.
The populous and economically vibrant Asia Pacific region has largely been spared attacks by the Syria and Iraq-based IS group.
But some APEC members, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, fear their citizens fighting for the group might one day return and wreak havoc at home.
The lead-up to Wednesday and Thursday’s summit talks was also dominated by sparring between Washington and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea issue.
Smaller nations with overlapping claims to the strategic waterway, including the Philippines, have been rattled by Beijing’s increasing assertiveness in the waters in recent years.
These actions have included a spate of island building on disputed reefs and shoals, and many Asian nations have been looking to Washington for support.
APEC members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Taiwan have rival claims to parts of the sea, which is also believed to sit atop vast oil and gas resources.
China had been hoping that the long festering territorial dispute would not surface at the trade gathering.
But those hopes were dashed when Obama flew into Manila on Tuesday and announced more than $250 million in maritime aid for Southeast Asian allies.
He also offered a warship to the Philippines, one of Beijing’s most vocal critics in the dispute.
That in turn sparked a stern rebuke from officials in Beijing — although Xi avoided talking publicly about the row while in the Philippines.
Vietnam also signed a strategic partnership this week in Manila with the Philippines, deepening security ties partly in response to Chinese assertiveness in the sea.
Huge chunks of Metro Manila have been cut off from traffic with more than 20,000 police and soldiers deployed to protect leaders, causing traffic chaos in a metropolis already renowned for its mammoth gridlocks.
Nonetheless anti-APEC protests were able to break through barricades to protest around a kilometer away from the summit venue, scuffling with police in riot gear.
Officers deployed water cannon — and even speakers blasting songs by Katy Perry and the Bee Gees — in a bid to remove the protesters who dispersed later in the afternoon.
The protesters said they opposed APEC’s free-trade agenda because it favored big corporations, neglected the poor and cost the country enormous sums of cash to host.