Friday, September 14, 2007

2007 APEC Summit and Current Asia Pacific—Create an Asia-Pacific Democracy Partnership?

Under the theme of “Strengthening Our Community, Building a Sustainable Future,” the 2007 APEC Leaders’ Summit was held in Sydney on September 8-9, 2007. The main issues of this year’s meeting arranged by Australia were climate change, WTO Doha Round negotiation, regional economic integration, human security, and APEC reform.

In addition to the usual APEC Ministerial Joint Statement and Leaders’ Declaration, the Leaders’ Summit this year had also produced an individual declaration for climate change, energy security and clean development, called “Sydney Declaration.” To push forward the WTO Doha Round negotiation, APEC leaders this year again issued a stand-alone statement.

From the standpoint of APEC multilateral meeting, this year’s APEC Leaders’ Summit was unique in that they discussed climate change first and then economy and trade. With the rising importance of issues regarding abnormal climate and greenhouse gas emissions, APEC Leaders, for the first time, stated their views in the Declaration on Climate Change, Energy Security and Clean Development. They also declared their support for the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the development of an arrangement for the post-Kyoto Protocol (post-2012) era.

With regard to economic and trade issues, APEC had been calling for the successful conclusion of the Doha Round talk, and had developed a specific Declaration regarding this issue. Additionally, APEC Leaders had endorsed the Regional Economic Integration Report from the Ministerial Meeting. Regional economic integration was mentioned in the Leaders’ Declaration together with the topic of Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). Leaders called for examining the options and prospects for a possible FTAAP via a range of practical and incremental steps.

On the subject of strengthening human security, APEC Leaders believed that terrorism, natural disasters, contaminated products, contagious diseases, energy security could continue to affect economic growth and standard of living in APEC. As for the APEC reform, it was agreed that APEC membership fees would increase by 30% in 2009. The creation of the Policy Support Unit within the APEC Secretariat for providing expert analyses and research was passed as well. Leaders also endorsed the idea of discussing about the need for an Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat with a fixed term.

The Sydney Leaders’ Summit not only occurred in a multilateral manner, but also consisted of bilateral talks. The bilateral talks of this year had focused on political security more than economic cooperation. The main outcomes of different bilateral talks consisted of U.S.-Australia anti-terrorism cooperation, and Australia's agreement to continue with troop deployment in Iraq. Australia and the U.S. also signed Defense Trade Cooperation Agreement, so that Australia could receive the latest weaponry and technology like the United Kingdom. As for China-Australia cooperation, China bought about US$45 billion of natural gas from Australia. Security dialogues between China and Australia would also start soon. China and the U.S. agreed to set up hot lines between the White House and Beijing. The U.S. also raised several concerns with China, such as product safety, trade imbalance, religious freedom, and the situation in Sudan. Besides, the U.S. expects that the Chinese government can express its commitment to openness and tolerance through hosting the 2008 Olympic Games. The U.S. briefly mentioned about the need for maintaining the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

In order not to provoke China, the first trilateral security dialogue was held quietly among Leaders of Australia, Japan, and the U.S. The main topic of the dialogue was about India’s global strategic status, since India is the world’s largest democracy. Even though India had not been invited to the meeting, there was support for elevating India’s role in both regional and global seating. With this, a proposed Asia-Pacific democracy partnership seems about to occur.

More importantly, from the development of multilateral and bilateral meetings of the APEC Leaders’ Summit, the Asia-Pacific region indeed has not been static but dynamic. The region has been changing and the main points are as follows:

First, environmental politics and diplomacy have emerged in the Asia-Pacific region. Climate change is no longer just an environmental problem. Now with its extended impact on politics, economy and development, in the future, the issue of climate change will be not only related to energy development and economic competition, but also about allocation of global public resources. As such, the future trend in the Asia-Pacific region is that the subject of climate change will gain increasing importance.

Second, regional economic integration has become significant for APEC together with WTO multilateral trade liberalization. From the outset APEC has all the time given priority to the support for WTO multilateral trading system. However, with the rising significance of free trade agreements (FTAs) and regionalism, and the slowing of WTO negotiations, the idea of an Asia-Pacific free trade area has increasingly received greater attention from APEC members. Under the circumstances, there is the possibility that the significance of regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region will not be too far behind WTO multilateral trade liberalization.

Third, the gap between developing countries and developed countries is still wide. Many key players, such as the U.S., China, Japan, Australia and the ASEAN countries, will care more about their own interests and compete with each other for becoming the major architects for this region. The gap and conflicts have also become evident in the issues of climate change, regional economic integration, and APEC reform; one can observe the differences in positions between developing and developed countries.

Last but not the least, the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India are seeking to create an Asia-Pacific democracy partnership. U.S. President Bush had emphasized the importance of freedom in the Asia-Pacific region and the widening of democracy in this year’s APEC gathering. The meeting among U.S., Japan, and Australia had also mentioned the creation of the aforementioned partnership and had discussed the role of India. Japan has also openly stated that Japan and India have common interests, such as the support for democracy and freedom. In this sense, we can infer that a powerful and intangible partnership focusing on the promotion of democracy has begun to develop in the Asia-Pacific region.

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