Stanford scholars talk APEC 2014

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apec economic leaders meeting headline
Leaders pose for a group photo at the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting in Beijing, China.
Photo credit: 
APEC/(Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

Asia-Pacific leaders recently met in Beijing at the annual APEC summit, and after two days of discussion, concluded with some significant pledges and remarkable moments. President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan held a landmark meeting, and the United States and China discussed two agreements that are both symbolic, and lay groundwork for regional progress, say Stanford scholars.

High-level intergovernmental meetings are often more theatre than substance, but this year the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the oldest trans-Pacific regional organization, delivered important messages and may spur actions by member governments.

“Any summit is a ‘hurry up, get this done’ motivator,” says Thomas Fingar, the Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “The head of state goes to the meeting – and generally speaking – he doesn’t want to arrive and say ‘my guys were asleep for the last year.’”

Fingar says the APEC summit prodded countries to work on “deliverables,” particularly the goals and projects on the agenda from previous meetings. He recently returned from Beijing, and shared his perspectives with students in the Asia-Pacific Scholars Program.

Writing for the East Asia Forum, Donald Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, said many of the commitments declared at the APEC summit, and at the subsequent meetings of the G20 in Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Myanmar, will have implications for global governance, particularly as China holds a more influential role in the region.

APEC countries account for over 40 percent of the world’s population and nearly half of global trade – and true to form, the grand vision of the summit is to advance regional economic integration.

Yet, “the ancillary things – things that went on in the margins – are in many ways more important,” Fingar says, referring to areas outside of the summit’s obvious focus, and what’s discussed on the sidelines of the public talks.

 

 

Key outcomes from the 2014 gathering include:

  • The leaders of Japan and China met for the first time since coming into office, afterward acknowledging that the two countries have “disagreements” in their official statements. Of the Xi-Abe meeting, Fingar says, “it helps clear the way for lower level bureaucrats to go to work on real issues."

 

  • The United States and China announced a proposal to extend visas for students and businesspeople on both sides. While the immediate effects would be helpful, the change is symbolically superior. “You don’t give 5-10 year visas to adversaries,” he says, it shows that “‘we’re in [the relationship] for the long-term.’”

 

  • China proposed the development of a new “Silk Road,” pledging $40 billion in resources toward infrastructure projects shared with South and Central Asian neighbors. “It’s tying the region together and creating economy-of-scale possibilities for other countries,” he says. “A real win-win situation.”

 

  • The United States and China, the world’s two largest energy consumers, announced bilateral plans to cut carbon emissions over the next two decades. “It’s significant because those two countries must be the ones to lead the world in this area. Unless we are seen to be in basic agreement, others will hold back.”

 

  • China codified the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a global financial institution intended as an alternative to institutions like the World Bank. “China has been frustrated with its role in existing international institutions,” Fingar says, explaining a likely motivation behind the AIIB’s creation.

Emmerson said the outcomes of the APEC summit from the U.S.-China standpoint were better than expected, speaking to McClatchy News. The visa and climate deals, as well as their commitment to lowering global tariffs on IT products, will lessen chances of conflict between the two countries. 

However, the summit did leave some areas unsolved. One of the most important is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade pact proposed by the United States that includes 11 others countries in the region, but does not yet include China.

Leaders “made positive noises” coming out of the TPP discussions, Fingar says, but nothing was passed. The gravity and complexity of trade-related issues, especially agriculture and intellectual property, is likely to blame for slow action.