The leaders of the Group of 20 just concluded the Bali summit. The 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ meeting officially started on Nov. 18 in Bangkok. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended and delivered an important speech, which expressed China’s views with regard to deepening cooperation in the Asia-Pacific nations and promoting the growth of the global economy. This part of the APEC meeting was followed closely.
The Group of 20 is a forum for international economic cooperation. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is a mechanism for economic cooperation with the greatest influence and highest level of authority, and it covers the broadest fields. Thailand, the host country, designated the meeting’s theme as “Open. Connect. Balance.” Its purpose is to promote the realization of balanced, sustainable economic growth. This is an important topic with great value and a lot of room for discussion.
However, similarly to what has happened with G-20, APEC cooperation is also facing the disturbance of geopolitical factors. Determining the success of the meeting depends to a large extent on whether this disturbance can be overcome, along with whether precious time will be spent centered on the crucial topics of the meeting’s theme. In this respect, the G-20 Bali summit was satisfactory overall, but looking at the current situation, the United States will likely exert more negative influence, which is why it is hard for APEC’s goals to avoid seeming uncertain.
U.S. President Joe Biden was absent from the meeting because he returned to Washington to take part in his granddaughter’s wedding; Vice President Kamala Harris replaced him. During a recent interview, Kasit Piromya, Thailand’s former foreign minister, noted that this will reinforce the view in Southeast Asia that the United States is “too busy … distant, and aloof,” making it unable to effectively engage with Thailand and other countries in the wider region. To be frank, Southeast Asians expressing disappointment at this is excusable, but the reason for American elites’ concern about disappointing Southeast Asia is not so straightforward; in fact, it can even be said that something darker is at work.
When sifting through arguments in the U.S., one can immediately smell the stench of cold war. One argument is that Biden made an error by allowing the opportunity to win over the Asia-Pacific pass to China. Another opinion is that Biden’s absence is admittedly regrettable, but that this does not mean that the U.S. will passively relinquish its economic influence. The U.S. will not abandon Asia and allow China to hold the leading economic position.
It is not hard to see that those on both sides of this debate are using the logic of a zero-sum game; both see the Asia-Pacific region in terms of large countries vying for spheres of influence. From this perspective, it does not matter what actions China takes or which views it promotes. All can be seen as attempting to challenge America in a turf war. However, this is exactly what we firmly oppose and is one of the dangers about which the Asia-Pacific is most vigilant.
According to a leak from a Washington official before the event, Harris will reiterate America’s promise to the Asia-Pacific, emphasize the importance of the rules-based international economic order and say that there is no better economic partner than the United States, as well as implicitly critiquing China’s “economic coercion and debt-trap diplomacy.” If this is the core information that the U.S. is bringing to the APEC meeting, then this is even more disappointing then Biden’s absence, because it has no substance and only offers stale clichés for the listeners of the Asia-Pacific region. This type of information is not only tiring due to its lack of novelty, it is actually frightening because of the poison it contains.
The Asia-Pacific has the most development potential and vitality for growth of all the regions in the world, but it is not anyone’s backyard and should not become a battleground for large countries. What needs to be emphasized is that the cooperation between China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific has never excluded other parties. We welcome the U.S. to contribute constructively by promoting the development of the entire region. However, with regard to China policy, President Biden is still ardent about keeping his promise of “five noes.” The practice of Washington officials contains both overt and secret maneuvers. They should read those promises carefully. Otherwise, how could anyone believe that an unreliable U.S. would be a good partner?
The history of APEC is a bit longer than that of the G-20, and China has actively participated since its early stages. Just as distance determines a horse’s stamina, so does time reveal a person’s true heart. The mutual trust and shared interests of all parties were built up over a long period and cannot be arbitrarily damaged as one pleases. If the United States wants to mobilize the forces of each party in the Asia-Pacific to accord with Washington’s strategy on the basis of hearsay or petty favors, then the country is truly egotistical and condescending to the Asia-Pacific countries. We hope that the United States can put into practice President Biden’s promises to neither seek out a new cold war nor to cut ties with China. Therefore, the APEC meeting will be the testing ground for U.S. reliability.