The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit was held in Da Nang, Viet Nam (November 6-11, 2017). Amid the fast changing geostrategic context and domestic situation in a number of countries, APEC Summit was marked by commitment to free trade and globalization despite US president Donald Trump’s reservation. It was the culmination of year-long hosting of APEC meetings in Vietnam. It marks the second time Vietnam was playing host to the APEC, having hosted the event previously in 2006. Earlier, a Round Table Meeting with the theme, “Stronger Joint Action for APEC’s Shared Vision”, had been held in Hanoi in December 17, 2015 by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss preparation efforts for the 2017 APEC Summit. This was the first APEC meeting for United States President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, since their inaugurations on 20 January 2017, 10 May 2017, 1 July 2017 and 26 October 2017, respectively. Apec brings together 21 economies from the Pacific region – the equivalent of about 60% of the world’s GDP.
The Da Nang Declaration
The 2017 APEC Summit in Vietnam officially wrapped up with the Da Nang Declaration, which reiterated the commitment of the 21 economic members to multilateral trade that fosters inclusive growth and reaffirmed their confidence in the forum’s ability to tackle future challenges together. The declaration, coming at the conclusion of the Summit, themed “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future”, reaffirmed leaders’ long-standing commitment to APEC’s mission of fostering sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. According to many experts, the Da Nang Declaration expresses a new vision for APEC, establishes new directions to create growth momentum for the region, and maps out new directions for APEC economies in the future.
The 2017 APEC under the host of Viet Nam proposed four areas for cooperation: a) sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth; b) regional economic integration and connectivity; c) dynamism for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) — a key driver of the region’s growth; and d) food security and achieving sustainable agriculture. Topics of discussion also included improving work force skills to meet the new demand for the fourth industrial revolution, reducing income gaps and, and promoting inclusive and equitable development. The Danang Declaration — unanimously adopted at the Summit — reaffirmed all these and called them “long-standing commitments” by all member economies. Similarly, the dramatic revival of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement talks (now changed to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) after intensive negotiations in Danang has helped tighten an embrace of “high-stardard”, “balanced” “free”, and “fair” game of trade for concerned stakeholders. Chinese President Xi Jinping also drew a lot of attention because the meeting took place not long after China’s 19th Party Congress. The region wanted to know Beijing’s major policy lines for the new term as could be seen in President Xi’s numerous sideline meetings, and Vietnam was the first foreign country President Xi visited. Russia, Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia (an APEC founding member) certainly took APEC seriously with their respective agreement on the host country’s proposed agenda. As for ASEAN, with the presence of Secretary General Le Luong Minh, it was able to seize the opportunity to cement its solidarity and the working principles that have brought about its successes in the last five decades.
Another highlight of the 2017 APEC Summit was the commitment to and innovative ideas for global growth. The APEC CEO Summit was a great success, with speeches given by leaders of APEC economies, including US President Donald Trump and Chinese Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping, as well as leaders of leading local and global economic groups and representatives from major international economic institutions.
Ministers of the eleven remaining signatories to the TPP agreed on “core elements” of a new trade pact, to be implemented without the US. The agreement will now be called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). While the “TPP-11” accord was not endorsed by leaders, as expected, ministers said the new name reflects a focus on inclusive growth.
APEC and ASEAN
At the APEC Summit, for the first time ASEAN leaders had a dialogue with APEC members’ heads of delegation. This is a testament to both ASEAN and APEC’s continued aspirations for a wider community of cooperation. APEC, like ASEAN, constitutes a significant building block for the region’s deeper integration and connectivity. ASEAN has endeavored to keep its centrality in the regional architecture, one with values shared by APEC, such as open regionalism and inclusiveness.
Vietnam remakes its image
For Vietnam APEC Summit culminated in creating a brand image. President Xi congratulated Vietnam on successfully organizing the 2017 APEC Summit and highly appreciated the results of the conference in promoting regional and global development.President Trump said he was impressed by the sincere sentiments and warm welcome of the people of Da Nang and Hanoi, and asked Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to thank the Vietnamese people. The achievements not only express Vietnam’s new role in the international community but also show that APEC continues to be a leading regional economic cooperation mechanism that initiates and promotes cooperation, connectivity, and intellectual convergence in the region and the world.
This success is reflected in the participation of major international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). A number of senior analysts and commentators participated at the event and contributed significantly to its success.
More than 21,000 delegates took part in the 243 activities held during APEC Year 2017 in Vietnam. The APEC Economic Leaders’ Week alone attracted about 11,000 delegates, Mr. Minh said, adding that these figures reflect the world and the region’s great attention to APEC.
Relevance of APEC
APEC is the premier forum in the region to facilitate the realization of the development goals set forth by the United Nations. Home to around 2.8 billion people, approximately 59 percent of world GDP and 49 percent of world trade, APEC includes the world’s biggest economies, such as the US, China, Japan, ASEAN, and thus has the potential to make important economic contributions to the region — and the world. APEC could help to promote economic development in the region in many important ways. Even though the Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing region at a time when the world economy is witnessing positive growth, there are lurking risks such as inward-looking policies of many countries, aging populations, as well as traditional and emerging security challenges.
Differences between the US and China
On 09th November 2017, Ministers from Asia-Pacific countries ended amid differences on the issues like trade and protectionism. Foreign and trade ministers of 21 Pacific Rim economies meeting in Vietnam extended their talks for an extra day Thursday as they struggled for a consensus on open markets and other strategic issues ahead of a regional summit. The problem arose because of insistence of the US on changes to the language used concerning issues such as free trade and protectionism. In a speech in the Vietnamese port city of Da Nang on November 10, President Trump railed against the World Trade Organization, which sets global trade laws, and said it “cannot function properly” if all members do not respect the rules. He complained about trade imbalances, saying the US had lowered market barriers and ended tariffs while other countries had not reciprocated. He further said that such practices hurt many people in the US adding that free trade had cost millions of American jobs. But he did not lay the blame on Apec countries, and instead accused earlier US administrations of not acting earlier to reverse the trend. He said America would make bilateral agreements with “any Indo-Pacific partner here who abides by fair reciprocal trade”, but only “on a basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit”. Since taking office, President Trump has pursued his “America First” agenda and pulled the US out of the regional Trans-Pacific Partnership – a major trade deal with 12 Apec nations – arguing it would hurt US economic interests.
In contrast, President Xi said globalisation was irreversible. Speaking minutes after his American counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping took to the podium to espouse his country’s credentials as the new champion of world trade. Globalisation, he said, was an “irreversible historical trend” but the philosophy behind free trade needed to be repurposed to be “more open, more balanced, more equitable and more beneficial to all”. In contrast to President Trump, the Chinese leader defended multilateral trade deals, which he said helped poorer nations to benefit. He said, “We should support the multilateral trading regime and practise open regionalism to allow developing members to benefit more from international trade and investment.”
President Trump was clear – he wants bilateral trade deals and large, multilateral arrangements don’t work for him. This was a speech saying that America is open for business, but on America’s terms. Contrast that with China’s Xi Jinping, who spoke about the digital economy, quantum science, artificial intelligence – presenting a vision of the future that is connected, and comprehensive.
Increasingly these days Mr Xi appears as the poster child for free trade and globalization on the international stage, but ironically China itself has yet to become a fully free economy. On the other hand, the US was the architect of many of the multilateral and free trade agreements for Asia. Under its tutelage, many of these countries opened up and reformed – playing by America’s rules. But under Donald Trump, that role has gone into reverse. This has left China with a gaping hole to fill – and one it is only more than happy to take on (BBC).
Despite differences, the 2017 APEC Summit presents a key medium for regional stakeholders to tackle current problems and promote better understanding. APEC’s consensus-based approach, broad inclusiveness, and efficient platform for numerous multilateral and bilateral meetings make the venue important. Cooperative programs within the APEC framework may be either substantive or symbolic, but given all the present challenges and needs, both are valuable for the region (Ley Dinh Tinh, huffington post).