08:50 GMT13 August 2020
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    APEC: Do Great Minds Think Alike?

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    Ahead of the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, the leaders of the APEC met in China to address the issues of concern for the region and ways of dealing with them.

    Despite differing views on some of the issues the summit served as a good platform for establishing and continuing the dialogue. Russia and China have signed a $400 billion deal for the construction of a pipeline.

    Agree or Disagree talks to George Koo, the China watcher and international affairs consultant about the importance of APEC and the developments that are likely to follow.

    17 deals have been signed between Russia and China during the two-day APEC summit.

    President Putin emphasized the importance of Russia’s cooperation with the bloc, pointing out that trade with APEC member’s accounts for 25% of Russia’s total trade volume.

    What is the significance of this particular APEC meeting? How would you characterize it?

    George Koo: Certainly, the three major players that we can clearly see are: Xi Jinping in the middle and Obama on one side and Putin on the other. And that makes a very interesting dynamics. Seemingly, all the three of them came out of this thing fairly positive, but certainly Xi Jinping captures most of the limelight. His proposition for the world trade agreement among the Asian-Pacific nations was well-received and seemingly accepted by the leaders, and it will go on as part of a study program. Whereas President Obama’s TPP, that didn’t seem to sell very well. And one of the reasons it did not sell was because it did not specifically include China in that discussion.

    Speaking of China, what would you name as the most important issues that need to be ironed out between China and the US?

    George Koo: One of the sources of frustration is getting North Korea to not go nuclear. That’s one issue both sides agree on, neither of them would like to see North Korea with the atomic bomb. And yet the solution is so simple, they can’t get to that point. On the one hand the US feels that China needs to deal with North Korea, the US feels that North Korea is under China’s control. And indeed, North Korea is, in the sense that If China stops rendering any sort of economic aid, the whole place would collapse.

    So, that seems like a very valid expectation, the only problem is that South Korea and the US has the military treaty which has been in place since 1953. And with that treaty in place, if north and south were to reunite and South Korea were to take over the entire peninsula, the treaty says that the American troops then can be posted right next to the border between Korea and China. And that is something that is not acceptable to China, at least at this point, because the mutual trust between the US and China is not there to tolerate such a military presence.

    China is seen by many, including the countries that form the APEC, as a country that every now and then destabilizes the situation in the region. Are these concerns valid?

    George Koo: I think in the back of mind there is always a worry when a major neighbor seemingly flexes its muscles. But China is really just looking to assert its own sphere of influence. They are not being an aggressive power, like the US has been. On the other hand, the level of economic cooperation is very strong. As part of the APEC China has proposed to set up the infrastructure bank and that was very readily accepted. And all the APEC nations are looking to getting into a piece of that. The free trade area that China proposed has outweighed the TPP that Washington was proposing.

    And whether you are talking to Myanmar or Indonesia, or other leaders of the APEC, I think they are all making friendly gestures and postures towards China, because China is too economically important. And as the Senior Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew has said – China has the advantage of proximity when it comes to the influence on this part of the world, compared to the US. And that proximity is worth a lot in terms of influencing the neighbors.

    The Chinese relations with Japan, during the summit President Xi Jinping and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had their first formal meeting, since taking power in 2012. What significance do you think that has?

    George Koo: That was a very awkward looking handshake that the two leaders had. And let’s face it, neither Japan nor China would want to lose face at such a high-profile meeting. So, that awkward handshake and whether that leads to warming of the relations – remains to be seen. I'm not optimistic, because until Japan is willing to omit to all the problems of the WW II atrocities and start to make amends towards China, it is going to be very difficult to resolve anything.

    Speaking of cooperation between Russia and China, let’s talk about that.

    George Koo: The relationship is very warm between the two countries and that too should be reflecting in Obama’s thinking, because the hardnosed US position tends to push Russia and China together. 

    Is that good or bad?

    George Koo: From the world cooperation point of view, it is good. From the US foreign policy, it could be good if they change the unilateral approach that they take to things. They need to figure out a way to work with everybody else.

    But given the state of relationship that we have between Russia and the US, it drives Russia to get closer to the East. So, the more tension we have on the Western front, the more deals on the Eastern front.

    George Koo: But it doesn't have to be either\or, it can be both. Yes, it forces Russia to look for more deal eastward, with China and, possibly, with Japan. But it doesn’t have to be either\or, it probably would be to Russia’s advantage to be able to deal with all fronts, in all directions.

    There are so many issues that divide the US and China, like human rights, cyber spying and other issues. Do you think the countries will be able to reconcile their differences?

    George Koo: The human right issue is really out of whack and not linked to reality. For the US to say to China – do go violent in the Hong Kong protests – well, where are they coming from? What basis do they have to say that? The police in Hong Kong is a lot easier, they certainly haven't been swinging billy-clubs and cracking heads. In NY, when the same Occupy Wall Street happened, it didn’t take the police very long to start beating heads in the name of calming things down.

    China has a policy of noninterference. They don’t tell other countries what to do and how they should run their own countries. When they make investments, they are making sure that it is not just a handout with the strings attached, it is really truly an investment that makes sure that both sides gain from what they call a win-win arrangement. I think their international conduct is much easier to accept. And they are not out to compete with the US, China has plenty of problems of its own.

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