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World
Cooperation Tops the Agenda
The majority of APEC members yearn for cooperation and development
By Wen Qing | NO. 48 NOVEMBER 29, 2018

Leaders and representatives attending the 26th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting and their spouses pose for a group photo before a welcoming banquet in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, on November 17 (XINHUA)

The Pacific Explorer, a cruise ship docked at Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG), attracted global attention on November 17-18, as the venue for the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting. The ship accommodated leaders of 21 member economies gathered to exchange views and chart a course for future regional development.

"We APEC member economies are brought together by the Pacific Ocean. I was looking at the vast ocean when I boarded the ship, and it struck me that we are all indeed fellow passengers on the same boat," Chinese President Xi Jinping said in his speech at the meeting.

Xi's remarks reminded all stakeholders that no one can survive or prosper if some countries refuse to cooperate. Under the shadow of unilateralism and trade protectionism, the world economy is at a crossroads. Countries' decision to pursue confrontation or cooperation could decide the future of all humankind. During the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, China once again expressed its willingness to build an open, inclusive economy which will benefit all countries.

Together with China, many other Asia-Pacific economies clearly voiced their opposition to unilateralism and trade protectionism. Under the theme of Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future, this year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting achieved tangible results and reached a broad consensus on promoting regional economic integration and enhancing connectivity for inclusive growth. In addition, APEC member economies put forth new policy proposals on issues such as tariff and non-tariff measures, services and investment, which will facilitate agreements within the bloc toward finalizing the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the APEC CEO Summit in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, on November 17 (XINHUA)

China's commitment

The APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting aims to enhance exchanges among member economies at different development stages. "Countries with successful development experience and progress can share them with others that wish to promote their own development and they can form consensus to further stimulate national and regional economies," Wei Liang, a research assistant with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), told Beijing Review. "China has done great work in this area and plays the role of inspiring other countries."

Xi detailed China's solutions for addressing global challenges at the meeting, which were widely commended. He pointed out that humankind is "at a crossroads of history, when we must have a keen appreciation of worldwide trends and take the pulse of the world economy." He then called on APEC member economies to focus on openness, development, inclusiveness, innovation and a rules-based approach to create more space for development, deliver more benefits to the world's peoples, promote interaction, tap into new sources of growth and improve global governance.

Xi then reviewed China's reform and opening-up process during the past four decades and stressed that development should be based on opening up, be people-focused and contribute to global peace and progress. He reiterated China's commitment to further opening up.

"China's overall tariff rates have been reduced to 7.5 percent, lower than the majority of developing countries and beyond the commitment China made upon its accession into the World Trade Organization (WTO). China has released a new negative list on foreign investment, and will further open up the finance, automobile, aircraft and ship sectors, among others," Xi said.

Xi's speech gave an overview of China's experience and progress after adopting its reform and opening-up policy, which fits with the purpose of the meeting: exchanging development ideas and inspiring each other, according to Wei.

"It is acceptable for countries to have different views on the global economy. But in general, the world economy should develop in an open and inclusive direction, which is the consensus of most countries. China has made great efforts and played its part in maintaining an open and inclusive world economy," Wei said.

Moreover, Xi reiterated China's determination to further open its massive market. The recently concluded first China International Import Expo attracted over 3,600 companies from around the world and more than 400,000 Chinese and foreign buyers. Deals worth $57.8 billion were sealed. These are concrete steps taken by China, demonstrating its commitment to trade liberalization and the opening up of its market, Wei said.

Belt and Road

In his speech, Xi once again clarified that the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, consisting of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, is an open platform for cooperation. "It is not designed to serve any hidden geopolitical agenda, it is not targeted against anyone and it does not exclude anyone. It is not an exclusive club that is closed to non-members, nor is it a 'trap' as some people have labeled it."

"The Belt and Road Initiative is guided by the principle of consultation and collaboration for shared benefits. More and more countries are attracted to this initiative and have signed memoranda of understanding for cooperation with China, which clearly shows the appeal of the initiative," Wei said. "Projects under the initiative are market-oriented; bilateral government relations serve as a bridge; and enterprises in relevant countries are in charge of specific programs, such as financing or construction."

Any country cooperating with Chinese companies bears the original intention of promoting its development, rather than forced to do so by China, according to Wei. "However, investment requires a series of events to reap returns. Factors such as internal economic problems and the global economic climate can influence the outcome. For some countries with debt problems, it fundamentally involves a commercial act between enterprises," he said.

Addressing the quality of Belt and Road projects, Wei pointed out that China's infrastructure construction capability is evident, whether one looks at the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in Kenya or the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which are concrete proof of good-quality programs undertaken by Chinese companies.

In fact, Belt and Road cooperation partners had their own views on the initiative. PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told Xinhua News Agency, "The initiative is something that is good for PNG and good for the region, and globally it will continue to promote trade and investment for all countries."

According to Fiji's Permanent Secretary for the Office of the Prime Minister Yogesh Karan, his country greatly appreciates and supports the Belt and Road Initiative, and will actively participate in the development of the initiative in a bid to further strengthen the bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

An aerial photo of Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, where the 26th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting was held on November 17-18 (XINHUA)

Principal divergence

Of all the Western media coverage of this year's APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, the fact that it ended without issuing a joint statement seemed to be the hottest topic.

The vast majority of APEC members, in particular developing ones, made clear their explicit position for upholding the multilateral trading system, opposing protectionism, and avoiding rushing to conclusions on relevant specific issues, Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told a news briefing in Beijing on November 20.

"But a certain economy just refused to hear the voices of the vast majority and rejected the incorporation of these reasonable propositions into the outcome document. Instead, it insisted on adding contents that undermine other countries' fundamental interests and legitimize its protectionist and unilateral actions. When consensus was absent, it tried to ram through the contentious document and force others to accept its text. Such behavior violated the APEC principle of consensus-building and harmed the shared interests of all parties, to which China and many other members unequivocally expressed opposition both at the meeting and during negotiations," Geng added.

"It is understandable that no communiqué was reached considering the global trend of unilateralism and trade protectionism," Han Liqun, a researcher on the world economy with the CICIR, told Beijing Review. APEC was founded after the end of the Cold War, when regions looked to strengthen cooperation and regional economic integration, while economic globalization was the mainstream trend. "Under these circumstances, member economies have upheld a pragmatic attitude, notwithstanding differences, and have pushed forward cooperation in a lot of areas through the APEC platform over the past few decades," Han said.

But today's world is facing the rising trend of anti-globalization, with regional integration across the world encountering difficulties as a result.

"The idea of so-called 'fair trade' is a kind of narrow fairness," Han pointed out. "When China joined the WTO, its status as a developing country was acknowledged by all members." China also holds an open attitude toward the reform of the WTO, with the precondition that it represent the interests of all members and respect rules.

"More importantly, if we discuss fairness from a wider perspective, we will find that the United States has been the biggest beneficiary of world economic development since the end of World War II. It has enjoyed the benefits of the U.S. dollar being the global currency for several decades and controlled the pricing of bulk commodities across the world," Han added.

U.S. unilateralism sparked concern across the region, with even its allies publicly expressing opposition. "By withdrawing from multilateral trade agreements and pursuing unilateral tit-for-tat tariffs that are damaging not only to the United States and China, but to the broader regional and global trading system, the Trump administration is putting itself at odds with its Asian allies and partners," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

In today's world, countries' interests are so closely intertwined, while the global supply chain, industrial chain and value chain are all so closely connected. Thus, Xi stressed, "Attempts to erect barriers and cut close economic ties among countries work against economic laws and the current historical trend, and run counter to the shared wishes of people around the world. This is a shortsighted approach that is doomed to failure."

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to wenqing@bjreview.com

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