This year the theme of the 25th annual APEC summit is "Shaping the Future through Asia-Pacific Partnership." To quote the Chinese daily — the Global Times, “on Sunday, at the gathering of business and political leaders that preceded the meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time offered the world a vision of the "Asia-Pacific dream".
Says Zha Daojiong, Professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University:
Of the three major breakthroughs, one is obviously more to the Chinese agenda, and that is the announcement of the agreement to collaborate in anticorruption. And this is very important for China, because we have many fugitives on the run. Second is to study the possibility of moving towards the Asia-Pacific free trade area. It is not a feasibility study, but it is to do a research about it. And the third is to work on the value chain and the other aspects of what is called the connectivity. That is a buzz word. Basically, it is to look at how we can promote trade and investment among the member states, more than just tariffs.
And there’s already been a meeting between the Russian President and the Chinese leader at the sidelines of the summit. How did the meeting go and what is the outcome?
Zha Daojiong: Well, the Chinese press has been quite positive about the meeting between President Putin and his Chinese counterpart President Xi. Obviously, the APEC is particularly geared towards the economic affairs. There is the announcement of an additional gas pipeline, the so-called Altai pipeline from Russia to China. There are, I believe, 16 other memorandums or agreements signed. Some of these may be a confirmation of what was promised in the past, but nevertheless, that is significant as well. …Relations between China and Russia, at least under the leadership of President Putin and President Xi, the bilateral relations, at least at the governmental level, are going smooth and these meetings are seamless. In other words, no glitch. I think that’s what it is.
How about the US President? His agenda is said to be more political than economic?
Zha Daojiong: According to my knowledge of his schedule, as it is publically disclosed, one of his major tasks is to be in the US Embassy, inviting the rest of the 11 heads of states who are also here for the APEC summit, to the US Embassy and talk about the TPP without the Chinese presence….
Gleb Ivashentsov, former Russian Ambassador to South Korea and Myanmar:
China plays a very special role in Asia-Pacific now as an economic power, first of all, because for the last two years China has been producing 50% of the economic growth in Asia-Pacific. And China has introduced a lot of very important initiatives for the further economic growth of the Asia-Pacific.
For example, the idea of innovative reforms and the idea of developing the infrastructure, and of the interconnection between the economies. Actually, the Chinese are very active in promoting the idea of Asia-Pacific free trade zone. And their suggestions for improving the logistics and the financial infrastructure of the region are very important and promising for all the economies.
And also quite challenging for their main competitors…
Gleb Ivashentsov: You see, the situation in the Asia-Pacific is not simple now, because we all see kind of a confrontation between the US and China. And while the Americans are trying to dominate the area rather by the methods of pressing, China is open for cooperation and for the harmonization of the relations in the area. China is in favor of including all the members of the Asia-Pacific community into cooperation, while the US are trying to organize a special US-dominated Asia-Pacific club, which they call the Transpacific partnership. It is very interesting that they are inviting neither Russia, nor China into this Transpacific partnership.
Which makes it a rather confrontational project, doesn’t it?
Gleb Ivashentsov: Yes, of course, because now all the members of the Asia-Pacific community are divided in two groups. Some economies are in favor of this Transpacific partnership which is dominated by the Americans, and other economies are united into the regional comprehensive economic partnership which does not include the US, but is headed by China and the members of the ASEAN.
Ambassador, and what is Russia’s agenda at this summit?
Gleb Ivashentsov: For us, it is very important to reconfirm our interest in developing the economic contacts with the Asia-Pacific countries, because the APEC summit in Vladivostok two years back was kind of a start of our introduction into the Asia-Pacific. For Russia Asia-Pacific is very important; two thirds of our territory lies in Asia. And without becoming a Euro-Pacific power, Russia cannot retain its status as a great power. And for our economic development, these contacts with the Asia-Pacific are very important.
But still, our trade with Asia-Pacific is just one quarter of our overall trade. We need the investment from the Asia-Pacific and we need to get our economy integrated into the Asia-Pacific processes, because the Asia-Pacific now stands as a kind of locomotive of the world economy. And it is very characteristic that the ideas which were expressed in Vladivostok, they coincide very much with the ideas expressed by China at the present Beijing APEC summit.
The idea of stressing the energy cooperation, the idea of innovative reforms, the idea of developing cooperation in transportation, China is now promoting the idea of the Asia bank for the infrastructure investments. And we hope that it will help us to develop our transit possibilities, like the Transiberian Baikal-Amur railway and also the exploration of the northern sea route which may serve as a kind of new transportation route between Asia and Europe.
And that actually goes very well with the so-called roadmap for establishing the free trade zone in that area.
Gleb Ivashentsov: Yes!
However, there are other countries with which we find it a bit more difficult to develop a dialog. Japan, for instance. As far as I understand, Mr. Putin was already meeting with the Japanese leader. How did the meeting go?
Gleb Ivashentsov: You see, the APEC summits always serve as a platform for the bilateral meetings between the leaders of the economies. And President Putin has already had very deep discussions with the Chinese chairman Xi Jinping. He met the Chilean President. And he met the Prime Minister of Japan. That meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister is very indicative. Japan is the only Asian power which has joined the economic sanctions against Russia, which were introduced by the US. And in spite of it, Prime Minister of Japan himself has initiated the meeting with President Putin. And we hope that it will help us to overcome that negative position of Japan in connection to the events in Ukraine.
And there is also a very sparky meeting between Mr. Putin and the Australian leader, as the Australian leader promised to ‘shirt-front’ the Russian President.
Gleb Ivashentsov: My personal opinion is that the Australian Prime Minister should have been more accurate in using certain expressions addressing President Putin in the press, because if he wanted to have some, say, physical contact with our President, he should have recalled that President Putin is a master of judo. But anyway, I think it is just more on the lighter side and Prime Minister Abbott of Australia used all those expression just for the self-PR.
But in general, of course, we are interested in developing our relations with Australia. And these awkward remarks by the Australian Prime Minister should not harm the development of the positive process which has been there between our countries for all the last years.
I suppose that Mr. Abbot was saying that as a good ally of the US. But, getting back to the US, do we need to expect yet another failure from Mr. Obama at this summit? Or do we still have hope for something more rational and positive?
Gleb Ivashentsov: I do not think President Obama can bring anything new or positive to the summit. Frankly speaking, he is called the “lame duck” in the US domestic politics. And to a large extent he is a “lame duck” in the international political as well. For the last two years he used to talk about the American pivot to Asia and all that, but that pivot just came out as the repetition of all the politics of the Cold War period when the main stress was on strengthening the military alliances there.
The US has not offered anything positive for the Asia-Pacific agenda within the last years. And we are sorry for that, because the US is an important power and we want to expect some positive moves from them, but, unfortunately, these moves do not come.
Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics and Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney:
So, as I say, the most difficult relationship in the last few months or even a couple of years has been the Japanese-Chinese one. And the fact that at this summit the two leaders of those countries meet is a very positive thing. And I guess that is sort of why these summits are important, because otherwise how would they’ve ever managed to be able to meet each other. There is no excuse, there is no cover for them. So, I think this is the easiest way of doing that. And I think that is probably true of the relations throughout the region, that although there are tensions and there is always a competition, the more they are becoming wealthier and more important – the less room there is really for them to fight with each other, because this impedes their progress, it doesn’t help it.
Talking about the bilateral meeting between Mr. Abbott and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, do you think that it would also be hijacked by politicking, or do you think that we could expect a more substantial result?
Kerry Brown: Mr. Abbott is concerned about the plane that came down over Ukraine and the problems that are still left over because of that. That is probably going to be the main thing that will need to really focus on, and that they have focused on. But I think Russia and Australia don’t have a hugely close relationship. I mean, it is not like China, where the relationship between China and Australia is important because of the big trade. Russia is not as bigger trading partner for Australia, as China is. And there isn’t that depth of relationship between the two.
So, I think it is kind of a diplomatic relationship that is not wholly negative. I mean, at the moment it is going through a challenging period, but on the whole it managed to be reasonably good over the last few years. And I think Mr. Abbott will probably want it to become much better quite soon, because there are so many other challenges that Australia and the region face. You know, the things that are happening in Europe or on the edge of Europe are probably not so crucially important to them.
What kind of challenges?
Kerry Brown: I think that there is always the economic challenge in the region. I mean, all of these countries, including China, are now searching for stronger growth. And the good days of just being able to pump out the GDP growth no matter what are over. It is not as dramatic as in Europe or America, but it is still pretty challenging. I think there is also the big issue of the relationships between the countries in the region. There is a lot of history, a lot of issues that are still left over from the past. And this region is going to become more and more important to the world. So, the way the countries in the region talk to each other is very important.
Professor, for many states this week is in fact a sequence of summits. And to crown it all, Australia is hosting the G20 summit on the 15th and the 16th of November. What do you expect of it?
Kerry Brown: It is an enormous thing for Australia. I mean, the G20 has never been here before. And it is the first time so many of these leaders have come to Australia as the heads of states or governments. So, it is a big deal. I think for Australia, it is looking for, I guess, some kind of economic blueprint. As I said, the real kind of issue is the sustainable economic development in the region. I mean, this is got to be the medium to long term strategy. The region’s growth is important to the world, it is important to the region to have this sustainable growth and there is a need to have a new basis for economic cooperation.
And so, for Australia and for all of the Asian countries attending that is really uppermost in their minds; and how they work together with the other partners in the G20 from elsewhere in order to achieve that – that is important. And do it in a sustainable way, because the problem all the G20 members will have is these big imminent challenges of climate change or of an environment which is changing very-very quickly, and the obvious fact that no one country is going to solve this. They are all going to stand together and solve it.
So, I think that is probably something that Australia would be interested in being involved, although Mr. Abbott has a different idea about climate change sometimes and he isn’t as worried about it, as he should be.
Well, politicians come and go. Do you think that Australia, due to its position, both geographical and political, it has enough capabilities to work as a mediator between the potentially opposing parties?
Kerry Brown: With some of them it can. I mean, I think it’s got strong relations, as I said, with the other countries in the region. It’s got good relations with Japan, it’s got good relations with South Korea, Indonesia and it is a treaty ally of America. And so, in a sense, it can always get involved in the conversations between all those countries. Between China and Japan it will have no real role. And Mr. Abbott, whenever he spoke about this, he has not really helped a great deal. And I think between China and America it is a very tough thing. Mr. Abbott has to stand, again, as an ally of America, but really knowing that his economic interests are maybe better served in Beijing.
So, I think it is a very testing thing for Australia, to try and sort of stand between these important partners and not kind of make a mess of it by pretending that it needs one more than the other. It needs both of them – that’s the brutal reality. And so, it has to have a policy that would mean it can preserve its interests with both of them, without alienating the one or the other.
I think it is obviously problematic if you think the countries in the region, the ones that are going to suffer most if there is instability and conflict are these countries. I mean, it is not in their interests to be having fights with each other. And they are the ones with the most vested interests in control over avoiding those fights. So, I think most of the time that’s what the people are trying to avoid. They are making their point that they don’t want to come towards a point of conflict.