Journal

APEC, China and the Changing Times

Wang Yusheng former Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria and Colombia and Senior Official to APEC
I. APEC Leads in Promoting Cooperation and Development and Its Values
 
In 2014, China played host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings for the second time, a year that marked the 25th anniversary of the organization.
 
More than a decade has passed as the world went through tremendous changes with shifting geo-political and economic landscapes. Along with these changes, some of which are incremental and others historic in the international balance of power, APEC has moved forward in keeping with the times and scaled new heights in its evolution.
 
As the world's premier organization dedicated to regional cooperation, APEC has all along led the strategic direction towards cooperation and development. Since its very inception, APEC has championed such core values as equal partnership, voluntarism, consensus, openness and inclusiveness, and such strategic objectives as trade and investment liberalization and facilitation as well as development through cooperation. Despite disruptions of one kind or another, APEC has been able to abide by principles, follow the trend of the times and keep going forward in greater depth.
 
Viewed at the strategic level, APEC has made some remarkable achievements in the past 20 years and more as follows.
 
(1) At the Seattle Summit in 1993, leaders solemnly pledged to "deepen the spirit of community", which laid down the direction for APEC's development politically. As conditions were not ripe enough then, China and many members failed to have a full understanding of APEC's historic importance, while the United States, which wanted to turn the organization into a "community", also failed because the idea was unrealistic. Now, things are different. Promoting and deepening the vision of community has become highly necessary as the organization will become stronger and more relevant to the new era.
 
(2) When Indonesia hosted the APEC Summit in 1994, leaders arrived at a consensus after many rounds of consultations and announced the decision to realize trade and investment liberalization and facilitation according to two timetables, namely, 2010 as the target year for developed economies and 2020 for developing ones (known as the Bogor Goals). Later, APEC came up with the Osaka Action Agenda, urging all members to fully and unconditionally implement the Bogor Goals with one escape clause, allowing certain flexibility when members are in difficulties. All this has far-reaching importance as it charted the economic course for APEC trade and investment liberalization process and the direction of its cooperation for development.
 
(3) In 1996, the "APEC Approach" was formulated and announced. It contains the following: recognition of the diversity of APEC members (as in terms of economic development level and development stage, social system, culture, history and religion); commitment to flexibility, gradualism, voluntarism and consensus building, equality and mutual benefit; setting strategic objectives collectively while allowing members to meet them in light of their respective conditions. There was little time left to discuss what the "spirit of community" meant when the meeting took up the issue of "deepening" that spirit. But the "APEC Approach" has in fact solved this question and came to be regarded as the quintessence of the "spirit of community". It enriched and developed the APEC values, made APEC a brand new way for international cooperation under the new conditions and was critical in exerting positive influence on the region and the world, thus in fact assuming a universal value in the new era.
 
These strategic outcomes laid a solid foundation for the development of APEC and its growing international influence. It was under such a strategic guidance that APEC has operated, made progress and broken new grounds over the past years.
 
Consultation, coordination, cooperation and development are always dominant themes of APEC. Yet the course it has travelled in the last 25 years was anything but plain sailing. Owing to differing interests and strategic thinkings of various members, disputes and contests are hardly avoidable. The greatest differences lie in what values APEC should endeavor to uphold. Are we to embrace a "relationship of equal partners" or subject ourselves to the dictates of one or several members? That is a question of leadership. As a matter of fact, developed members, the United States in particular, are no fan of "partnership of equality" or "voluntarism". They are more interested in market access of their products, and the leadership power, which is not what developing members particularly care for.
 
China was the host of the 2014 APEC meetings. Under the theme of "Shaping the Future through Asia-Pacific Partnership", APEC was tasked to discuss ways to advance APEC integration, establish a free trade area, speed up connectivity, and promote an innovation-based cooperation. We must not limit ourselves to just completing the Bogor Goals on or ahead of schedule, we should aim to upgrade the level of APEC trade and investment liberalization and facilitation (Bogor-plus). The United States went after a US-led APEC community two decades ago but failed because conditions were not ripe and appropriate back then. But things are changed now and conditions are ripe enough for the US advocated free trade area and regional integration 20 years ago. People are expecting a stepped-up US push for it. If it is not the case, then people may ask: Has the United States changed? Is it now going after something else? The smart Americans ought to understand that being the sole success story may be enviable, just as a blooming flower in the garden. But indulging in self-admiration is not a popular thing to do. One or several flowers in the garden may have a breath of spring, but they can by no means represent the full season. What mankind needs is, to quote a Chinese saying, "All living creatures grow side by side without harming one another; and all ways run parallel without interfering with one another." Ours is a colorful and exuberantly bright spring season, one that is good for win-win cooperation and common prosperity.
 
II. An Equal Partner Makes Important Contributions
 
In 1991, China signed a Memorandum of Understanding with APEC under which China joined APEC as a sovereign state while Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong as regional economies. Their simultaneous joining of APEC and participation in its Seoul Meeting opened a new chapter for the organization, for without China APEC would not truly merit its name and therefore would be hard to think of.
 
Inside APEC, China has always been an equal member, always following, upholding and abiding by the basic principles jointly formulated by APEC members, which are also APEC values such as equal partnership, voluntarism, consensus building, openness and inclusiveness. Though APEC members may come in all shapes and sizes,  APEC has never, and will never, rank them as number one or number two.
 
What role has China played as an APEC member in the past two decades and more? What contributions has it made?
 
Generally, China played a positive, coordinating role in bringing APEC leaders to pledge for "deepened spirit of community" and to formulate the Bogor Goals (trade and investment liberalization and facilitation) with two timetables. It adheres to the principles of pragmatism and mutual benefit, opposes the practice of the strong bullying the weak, upholds the interests of the developing members, and plays a positive role in steadily advancing trade and investment liberalization.
 
At the strategic level, China has made two contributions to APEC which deserve merit:
 
(1) What kind of world is to be brought into the 21st century?
 
On the eve of the first APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in 1993, Deng Xiaoping asked pointedly: What kind of world is to be brought into the 21st century? He said that the 20th century would go down as a century of great human progress, dazzling advancement in science and technology and rising productivity. But it was also a century of wars, chaos and unrest. We have had two world wars, dropped two atomic bombs, and fought in numerous conflicts and local wars. It was a world of disorder. Though the Cold War and the bipolar structure are gone and there are some positive changes in international relations, regional disputes and complex conflicts abound and our world is by no means peaceful and tranquil. Peace and development in the world remain confronted with many new and grave challenges. What kind of world is to be brought into the 21st century? This is a big and important issue before the leaders of this generation of ours for serious study and careful solution. Deng Xiaoping also said, as there are a few more years before the century ends, there is still time for us to do something and something we must. If, as a result of our hard work, we have resumed genuine peace and prosperity for mankind, then the world's people would say that we have done an excellent job of great significance for them. If, the world will remain a chaotic, insecure and economically struggling place when we enter the 21st century, then we would have let the world's people down. Since we are leaders at the turn of the century, we are destined to have such a responsibility on our shoulders.
 
Based on Deng's remarks, President Jiang Zemin delivered a well-known keynote speech at the first APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Seattle entitled "What kind of world is to be brought into the 21st century?" It was an extraordinary contribution to the sound development of APEC and the fostering of the APEC spirit of community. Like an atomic bomb for peace sending shock waves around the world, Jiang's speech showed clearly that China not only cares about the destiny of China and that of APEC, but also thinks about the entire world, the well-being and hopes of the world's people and the future of mankind. The speech also broadly reviewed the main events and problems of the 20th century, outlined the basic hopes of the world's people for the coming century, and pointed out the unshirkable responsibilities for the leaders at the turn of the century. The advocacy for a "harmonious world" by Hu Jintao later was apparently related to the speech, while the call by Xi Jinping for a "new model of major-country relationship" represented a continuation and innovation of China's diplomatic strategy.
 
(2) The Birth and Vitality of "the APEC Approach"
 
In 1993, when APEC leaders solemnly pledged to deepen the "APEC spirit of community", they had little time to find the answer to what that spirit was. Thanks to three years of practice, China proposed at the Subic Meeting in 1996 "the APEC Approach" which included the following: first, recognition of diversity (as APEC members differed greatly in history, culture, social system, level of economic development, etc.); second, emphasis on flexibility, gradualism and openness; third, observing the principle of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit, consensus building and voluntarism; fourth, combining unilateral actions with collective actions. These principles give full consideration to members' difference in development level and bearing capacity and achieve a proper balance between their interests and demands.
 
The Leaders’ Declaration at the Subic Meeting pointed out that "deepening the spirit of community in accordance with the APEC approach is critical in exerting a positive influence on the region and on the world." At the Vancouver Meeting in 1997, leaders further pointed out that this is "an entirely new approach to international economic cooperation". Except for a few developed members who showed some reluctance in accepting this, developing members in general were happy, seeing it as an indispensable pillar for the building of an APEC community, which reflected the aspirations of the world's people for peace, development and cooperation after the Cold War ended, embodied a genuine partnership on the basis of equality, affirmed such basic principles as "consensus building" and "voluntarism" and had a strategic and far-reaching significance.
 
Thanks to the unique role of this approach and the direction it leads, APEC has maintained an abiding vitality in its development of the past decade and more.
 
At present, peace, development and mutual benefit have become the defining themes of our times. The collective rising of the developing countries is driving our changing times forward, ushering in historic transformation of the international balance of power.
 
From the very theme of the 2014 APEC meeting, we can see that China is acting in line with the times and making fresh contributions. The important resolutions and declarations adopted at the meeting and the strong economic measures taken by China such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other initiatives will surely move APEC further toward regional FTA and integration, allowing the great APEC community to become even more prosperous.
 

*Wang Yusheng is former Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria and Colombia
and Senior Official to APEC.

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