The View From Asia

When Apec becomes an arena for two giants

Asia News Network writers urge China and US leaders to be more constructive in talks at the upcoming G-20 meet. Here are excerpts.

Apec fizzles


The Statesman, India

The worthies who gathered at Papua New Guinea over the weekend have agreed to disagree.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit has failed, a collective failure that has been underlined by the inability to agree on a communique. This is said to be the first time in its history that a joint communique has been the casualty of discord, primarily between the US and China.

Cooperation has floundered on the rock of conflicting perceptions of trade and investment.

It is a measure of the tension between the Big Powers that police were called in when Chinese officials reportedly barged into the office of Papua New Guinea's foreign minister.

Of riveting concern at PNG was the trans-Pacific confrontation between the US and China, one that has acquired a new dimension with Donald Trump's sanctions and also, of course, the coordinated response of the US and the Western powers to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

For all the grandstanding that greeted President Xi Jinping's arrival, he stoked Western concerns when he met Pacific island leaders to buttress his Belt and Road Initiative.

That bilateral diplomacy, a sideshow to the multilateral meeting, was promptly countered by the US and its allies - Japan, Australia and New Zealand - with a US$1.7 billion (S$2.3 billion) plan to provide electricity and the Internet to PNG.

Small wonder that PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill diagnosed (with tongue firmly in cheek) the failure of the 21 members of the Apec group - "You know the two big giants in the room."

Intolerable impact


The Yomiuri Shimbun

The increase in antagonism between the US and China has affected multilateral talks.

The latest Apec summit ended without a joint declaration being adopted.

The US demanded that the declaration include a reference urging the World Trade Organisation to increase penalties against unfair trade practices, in an attempt to exert greater international pressure on China.

China sought to ensure the declaration includes objections to what it calls "unilateralism" by the United States.

Neither the US nor China accepted each other's assertions.

The Apec forum is a framework for Asia-Pacific nations and territories to cooperate in striving for the stability and economic development of the region. If the meetings continue to have similar results, it could raise questions about the reason for the forum's existence.

The US-China battle of words over supremacy in Asia was also staged through speeches given at Apec-related gatherings.

If China's aggressive moves, including an attempt to establish military footholds in the South China Sea, are left unchecked, it would allow the country to snatch leadership of the regional order and economic interests in the Indo-Pacific.

This sense of urgency is increasingly shared not only by the Trump administration but also by the US Congress and industrial circles. To ease the US-China conflict, the Xi administration must realise that rectifying China's hegemonistic conduct and unfair trade practices is indispensable.

It is also impermissible for the US to be promoting trade policies that pay no heed to international rules, including the unilateral imposition of punitive tariffs. The US-China trade war is a factor in stagnating global trade and investment, and is disturbing financial markets.

At an upcoming summit meeting, US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping should promote constructive talks aimed at mending the rift.

Common responsibility


China Daily, China

Thanks to their embracing of free trade and investment facilitation, the 21 Apec members, which include the world's most robust growth engines, now account for 60 per cent of global GDP and 47 per cent of global trade.

Although supposedly flying the flag for a rules-based region, the petulant me-first mentality on display at the leaders' summit in Papua New Guinea was again a disruptive presence seeking to subvert efforts to foster a greater sense of community and shared development.

President Xi Jinping's speech at the summit was a strong rallying call for countries to stand together and reject the take-what-you-can approach in favour of regional integration.

The choice facing the region and the world is a stark one: One path leads to progress, the other is a self-and all-defeating choice that leads back to the fault lines of the past.

Leaders in the region share a common responsibility to chart a peaceful and long-term development course for the Asia-Pacific as it enters its digital future.

 • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news organisations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2018, with the headline 'When Apec becomes an arena for two giants'. Print Edition | Subscribe