APEC platform for economic talks

2015-11-19 08:57China Daily Editor: Wang Fan

The ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economic leaders' meeting in Manila has brought together leaders of APEC economies, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, to discuss the strategic plans for future collaboration. [Special coverage]

With the world economy still struggling and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region being on the verge of a breakdown, the two-day event has all the more reason to accord priority to regional and global economic integration. It should also encourage all APEC leaders to candidly exchange their proposals and ideas for inclusive global growth, as the theme "Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World" indicates.

However, in the run-up to this year's APEC meeting, the United States has been acting otherwise. Washington, in tandem with some U.S. media outlets, has been pressuring the meeting organizers to put the South China Sea disputes in a spotlight, disregarding Manila's repeated promises to exclude them from the meeting. On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama called on China to halt further land reclamation and new construction in the disputed waters. At a meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, Obama called for "bold steps" to lower tensions in the region.

Addressing the APEC CEO summit on Wednesday, Xi urged APEC members to spare no efforts in fostering a peaceful environment conducive to development. He said, Asia-Pacific nations should respect each other's development paths, chosen in line with their respective conditions, and resolve any differences through dialogue and consultation. It would be a pity if the U.S. ends up heightening regional tensions within the largest economic bloc in the Asia-Pacific, which plays an indispensable role in promoting free and convenient trade and investment.

Avoiding major political differences and disputes over regional security has been an unwritten rule for APEC since its first meeting in Seattle, the U.S., in 1993, simply because they can be better discussed at other multilateral forums.

Therefore, the U.S.' efforts to sensationalize the South China Sea issue in Manila not only breaches the APEC tradition, but also could deviate the discussions from the scheduled focus on regional growth and economic integration, which have reached a tipping point with the inking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement by 12 countries in October after much argument and negotiation.

Notably, the 12-country agreement does not include some major regional economies like China, the Republic of Korea, Russia and Indonesia, intensifying the clash over the economic driver of Asia-Pacific integration - the Washington-led TPP or the Beijing-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The TPP with its high standards of human rights, environmental protection and marketization has become the economic propeller of Obama's "pivot to Asia" strategy, which, in turn, is designed to strengthen the U.S.' role in making global rules. In this sense, the signing of the TPP Agreement is a hindrance, not a boon, for APEC-oriented regional integration, because it further complicates geo-strategic contests between major world powers.

Just a week ago, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III assured visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the APEC leaders' meeting will not touch on disputed issues. So if the U.S. meddles in the waters, it will not only turn the 21-member economic summit into a diplomatic row, but also deal a blow to the constructive management of China-U.S. relations.

China will not shun the thorny territorial disputes it has with some of its neighbors, especially when its maritime sovereignty and security are being challenged by a muscle-flexing U.S.. The illegal entry of U.S. guided-missile destroyer U.S.S Lassen into the waters near China's islands in the South China Sea last month and two U.S. B52 bombers resorting to similar tricks on Nov 8 and 9 are irrefutable proof of Washington's attempt to militarize the region.

Hence, the U.S. ought to know that it cannot succeed in its designs by pressuring China and muscling through its own agenda at the APEC meeting.

The author, Zhu Feng, is executive director of the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies and professor of international relations at Nanjing University.


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