BANGKOK: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting began on Friday in Bangkok with a call from Thailand to work together to pursue sustainable growth and development in the face of economic and social challenges from COVID and climate change, as well as geopolitical tensions.
Leaders and heads of state from the Pacific Rim’s 21 member economies have gathered in Bangkok for a meeting on November 18-19. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also a special guest of Thailand at the summit.
What exactly is APEC?
The APEC is an intergovernmental forum that promotes free trade and economic cooperation among Pacific-rim countries.
It was founded in 1989 in response to Asia-Pacific economies’ growing interdependence and the emergence of regional economic blocs such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The 21 members of APEC are referred to as “economies.” Instead of a sovereign state, each must be an independent economic entity. The cooperative processes of the forum are primarily concerned with trade, and members interact with one another as economic entities.
APEC member economies are home to more than 2.9 billion people and account for more than 60% of global GDP.
In terms of size and composition, the organization is significant. It brings together the world’s top leaders. Among the 21 are the United States, China, and Russia. Japan, South Korea, and the majority of the ASEAN member countries are also represented.
Canada, the United States, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Russia are all members of APEC.
The growing importance of Southeast Asia at this year’s summit
The summit is being held at Bangkok’s Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, where over 3,000 police officers have been deployed to keep the participants safe.
The meeting, titled “Open, Connect, Balance,” focuses on restoring connectivity following the coronavirus pandemic and facilitating business mobility.
It is the year’s final multilateral meeting, following a flurry of gatherings, including the high-profile G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and the Conference of the Parties climate meeting in Cairo, Egypt.
Three of the four key events are being held in Southeast Asia for the first time in years, reflecting the region’s growing importance and a chance to dethrone China.
“When we look at Asia as a whole, we see China as a key economic engine.” However, China’s growth may have slowed in recent years as a result of COVID. Southeast Asia has always been a key engine for the region’s economic growth,” said Prof. Pavida Pananond, lecturer of international business at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
“Three events that showcase Southeast Asia for global summits that bring in global leaders.” That, I believe, is significant in and of itself.”
The summit is also important for Thailand in demonstrating its regional position and ability to host high-profile events, especially since the APEC meeting is scheduled to take place in the United States next year.
“A lot of work has gone into the protocols and how we as a nation can host world leaders,” Prof. Pananond added.
“Thailand joins the Southeast Asian countries that play a regional leadership role in discussing key global issues.”
On the agenda: sustainability
Meetings began on Friday morning, with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha emphasizing the importance of long-term growth and development.
He was speaking to the leaders of the world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China’s President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Kamala Harris.
“We can no longer live the way we used to. “We need to change our perspective, as well as our way of living and doing business,” Chan-o-cha stated.
“We continue to face the threat of climate change, which will affect not only the Asia-Pacific region, but also the livelihoods of all humanity.” As a result, we must work together to mitigate the effects and protect our planet.”
The Thai PM also presented the “Bangkok Goals,” which the host country hopes will be the signature deliverable of this year’s meeting, as well as a framework to advance APEC’s sustainability, to APEC leaders.
Supporting climate change efforts, advancing sustainable trade and investment, advancing environmental conservation, and improving resource efficiency toward zero waste are among the goals.
The objectives are consistent with Thailand’s own Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy Model — a recovery strategy and long-term development blueprint.
“This is a sustainable economic growth model,” Prof. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Bangkok’s Institute of Security and International Studies, told Arab News.
“(Thailand is) attempting to promote a type of open regionalism based on resilience, sustainability, and inclusivity, inclusiveness, not leaving, not having too much inequality.”
Diplomacy on the sidelines
The APEC summit also provides an opportunity for leaders to meet and discuss bilateral commitments.
China’s president met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday, the first such meeting between the two countries in nearly three years. Kishida told reporters after the meeting that he had expressed concerns about China’s maritime ambitions, which are causing growing tensions in Asia.
The Saudi crown prince met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on Friday, ahead of talks with Thailand’s prime minister and leadership, a key event on his visit’s agenda.
South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo is scheduled to meet with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Peruvian Vice President Dina Boluarte, as well as seek international support for South Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo.
Many more such gatherings are planned, with the US vice president, Australian and Singaporean prime ministers, and others in attendance.
“Having them in the same place at the same time in a summit meeting allows opportunities to strike business deals, promote economic cooperations, address common interests and challenges in the global economy,” Prof. Pongsudhirak said, adding that the group should focus more on the issues for which it was formed.
“We should get APEC to do what it was created to do: promote trade and investment, especially in this new era of digital trade.”
Making the forum more effective would necessitate the participation of the private sector.
“We can make a call for the private sector to take charge, because leaving it to governments can result in a lot of contentious issues,” Prof. Pongsudhirak said.
“They don’t agree on anything.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in the South China Sea, the Myanmar crisis…. So, in the digital era, you really need some other drivers to get back on track with trade and investment.”