With Washington sidelined, Beijing will be key player at APEC 2016

By Jeremy Garlick Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/17 19:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


The 2016 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, which is to take place in Lima, Peru, presents another opportunity for China to show its credentials as a regional and global leader.

As it did when it hosted the event in 2014, China is self-evidently taking APEC very seriously. The largest delegation is the one led by President Xi Jinping, demonstrating China's commitment to further developing cooperation on regional trade and investment. As ever, Chinese entrepreneurs are going to be looking to negotiate new deals and investments at the meeting.

In the wake of the US presidential election, much discussion at the forum is inevitably going to circle around the issue of Donald Trump. Leaders of the 21 APEC member economies will be trying to assess what the implications of the coming Trump presidency may be.

At this stage, Trump's foreign policy positions, as presented in limited form during the election campaign, look under-developed and half-baked. This means that it is going to be difficult for other world leaders to work out how to react until the new administration takes office and states its aims.

One issue which does appear to be settled is the vexed question of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This was a free trade agreement touted by President Barack Obama as part of his "pivot to Asia" and which excluded China; but it now appears to be dead in the water since the US president-elect wants no part of it.

TPP's demise would seem to suggest a role of renewed importance for APEC, which brings together Pacific Rim nations and actors. As one of the major players in the group, China is surely going to be looked to by other members for direction this time around, particularly since there is unlikely to be much of substance forthcoming from the lame-duck Obama administration. Even if there were to be any new US initiatives, nobody would take them seriously.

Beijing will likely ignore the Trump question and continue with the same policies it has been pursuing for the last several years, including its aim to be a leader of developing nations.

In this respect, the fact that this APEC forum is taking place in Peru is quite significant. As Beijing looks to expand its influence in the global South, investment in Latin America's potential for future growth is likely to form a major part of China's global economic portfolio, just as it does in other developing regions such as Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.

In the last decade, as America's huge economic advantage over the rest of the world has steadily evaporated, China has stepped into the gap. China is investing billions in regions left untapped due to America's lack of international geo-economic vision. This is set to continue as Beijing looks to ensure that domestic overcapacity in construction and other areas is translated into globalized action on the part of Chinese corporations.

The President of Peru Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is a former World Bank and International Monetary Fund employee who was educated in the UK and the US. As such, he must be aware of the complex, interdependent nature of the global economy, and of China's increasingly key role in it. It is therefore quite likely that we will see Peru, as the host of APEC 2016, supporting Chinese proposals at this event.

In fact, with the US effectively side-lined, the majority of the APEC economies will be looking to Chinese leadership this week. With the introduction of new Chinese-led initiatives in recent years such as the Belt and Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China has shown that it is capable of being a game changer within the existing international system.

There is every reason therefore to expect a deepening of China's confidence in its attributes and long-term policies at this APEC meeting. In the main, with the US present in body but not in spirit, this will mean that the other players will also be viewing China as the first among equals in the group.

Emerging Chinese leadership is much needed in these uncertain times. The good news is that China has recently been demonstrating that it is ready to assume a key role in negotiations over the future of the global economy. Get ready to see how this sense of responsibility for the direction of world development pans out in Lima.

The author is a lecturer in international relations, Jan Masaryk Centre for International Studies at University of Economics in Prague. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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