Thirty-eight percent of the world’s population, 60 percent of global GDP and 47 percent of world trade. These figures speak volumes of the strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member economies. They also underpin the great diversity of this vast region.
When leaders of the 21 economies met for the first time in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea this year, they must have been aware of the changes that have taken place in the global economic landscape. Hopes were high that they would engage in a forward-looking debate to explore ways of advancing the well-being of the region and the world at large despite daunting challenges.
Indeed, there were constructive discussions on topics ranging from a model e-port network to a multilateral trade system. President Xi Jinping, for his part, contributed China’s ideas on an open economy, innovation, interconnectivity and partnerships. One of the examples that he cited was the Belt and Road Initiative proposed five years ago. The initiative aims to enhance connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes, open to all Asia-Pacific countries.
Papua New Guinea signed a framework agreement on cooperation during Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s visit to China in June. The two countries have since coordinated closely on potential areas of cooperation. A total of 140 countries and international organizations have signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with China, evidence of the initiative’s widespread popularity.
A salient feature of the Belt and Road Initiative is its inclusiveness. It is designed neither to serve any hidden geopolitical agenda, nor exclude anyone, let alone be “trap” as some critics have claimed. Instead, it intends to generate shared benefits through consultation and collaboration.
During the APEC meeting, the United States levelled accusations against China concerning the Belt and Road Initiative and bilateral trade, casting a shadow over the talks. Admittedly, China and the United States have a wide array of differences. But at a time when China is taking steps to further open up its market and inject impetus to global trade and investment, it was ill-advised for the United States to play up their disputes at the APEC forum. Its hardline approach not only damages mutual trust between the world’s two largest economies but also runs counter to the APEC spirit.
At the APEC forum, decisions are made by consensus among the member economies. This principle ensures economies with varying local conditions have an equal say so that adopted decisions can be implemented voluntarily. Given diverse, and sometimes conflicting, interests among parties involved, building consensus on complex issues such as free trade and the reform of the World Trade Organization can be an arduous process that calls for political wisdom. But the prospect of reaching solutions acceptable to all will prove well worth the efforts required.