Reaching a consensus on the future of trade has become a challenge for APEC, as the organization’s leaders gathered in Vietnam. China and the US demonstrated opposing views on globalization, which have caused much concern among the bloc’s members. Sideline meetings, however, brought progress in pressing issues, such as the conflict in Syria.
It took APEC’s foreign, finance and economy ministers three days to agree on their joint statement following their Wednesday Danang meeting. The document describes collaborative actions, such as providing support for small businesses, promoting sustainable growth and deepening economic integration. But, apparently, the views of these key issues, especially the last one, vary greatly among APEC’s key members.
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Chinese leader Xi Jinping made it clear that his country will further support globalization and free trade, while Donald Trump focused on what he calls “fair trade,” which, according to some observers, will strip America of its economic leadership role and push it down isolationist path.
This disaccord between Washington and Beijing didn’t go unnoticed, just like other subtle, but visible changes in US foreign policy under Trump. It seems that the White House is looking towards broadening its foreign policy focus from Asian countries to a wider area, which includes India, so instead of “Asia Pacific” both Trump and his aides are now talking about the “Indo-Pacific.”
The gap between Washington’s current agenda and the priorities shared by other APEC members seems to be stretching far beyond just commerce, profits, or geopolitics.
Russia and China, according to their leaders, are focusing on cyberspace and the digital economy. Vladimir Putin mentioned these topics in his APEC article, published right before the summit:
“We believe that establishing effective cooperation to support innovation is the most important task we face in this dynamic era. As such, Russia has put forward a number of specific initiatives. These include unifying digital economy and trade rules, harmonizing national technical standards, coordinating strategies for forming high-tech markets, and creating a uniform conceptual framework for the digital space.”
Putin’s Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping also talked about the digital economy in his speech at the APEC CEO summit, with nothing of the kind being heard from Trump.
Besides the summit’s main agenda, APEC leaders had a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines.
In the run-up to the event there have been mixed signals from Washington about the possibility of Trump-Putin talks. Trump himself told Fox News on November 2 that such negotiations may take place in Danang and that Russia can help the US in dealing with North Korea. But immediately before the APEC summit the White House said that there will be no formal meeting. Moscow was prepared for the talks, since there were many issues of mutual importance on the agenda, including bilateral relations, which deteriorated during the Obama years, and Russian diplomats were clearly surprised by Washington’s sudden change of heart.
Nevertheless, Putin and Trump shook hands and talked to each other briefly twice – at the traditional gala dinner, and before the summit working session on Saturday.
The two leaders signed an agreement on a peaceful solution in Syria, supporting Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and the country’s fight against Daesh.
Next year’s APEC summit will be held in Papua New Guinea, with the organization’s long-term strategy being one of main agenda items. But with key players, such as the US, making a 180-degree turn in its trade policies in favor of isolationism, in many aspects the future of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation remains unclear.
APEC is a forum of 21 Pacific Rim economies that promotes free trade between members. It was created in 1989, with Russia joining the organization in 1989.