APEC’s Post-2020 vision will get RCEP support as US wanes

By Su Hao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/18 10:24:15

Photo: VCG

Malaysia will virtually host the 2020 APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting on Friday. The meeting is expected to launch the region's Post-2020 Vision - the key policy document that is set to replace Bogor Goals, which reach maturity at the end of the year 2020. 

Bogor Goals, one of APEC's flagship initiatives, were announced in 1994 for members to move toward the long-term goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region no later than the year 2020. However, because each member differs in their economic development and have divergences between them, the Bogor Goals have not really been realized to their ideal potential.

As a mechanism aiming at fostering economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, APEC is still functioning and is carrying forth its mission to continue to advance regional economics. 

All members have agreed to establish a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific as their long-term goal of regional economic cooperation. Therefore, they remain on the same page in proposing a new initiative - Post-2020 Vision - to set foster norms for the forum's future development. 

The coronavirus pandemic has gravely hit economies in the Asia-Pacific region to varying degrees. Deepening cooperation under the APEC framework is conducive for their economies to recover and to lessen the impact of the virus. 

Tokyo-based Kyodo News agency has reported that APEC members, including the US, see Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world's biggest trade bloc, and the 11-party Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as steps toward realizing an APEC-wide free trade agreement called the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. 

Actually, the function of the two partnerships differs. RCEP is a regional economic cooperation framework based on solid connectivity of regional industrial and value chains. The birth of the RCEP is in proper accordance with economic laws.

The TPP was originally launched by New Zealand, Singapore, Chile and Brunei. They sought to explore more space for development in the region under a concern that big powers such as China and Japan might take up regional dominance. In 2009, then US president Barack Obama found that the TPP could be exploited to restrict China in terms of economics - and even tear East Asia's overall economic structures apart. So he pulled in some regional countries such as Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia into the agreement with the main aim of targeting China. 

The move was nominally a high-level free trade arrangement. But in fact, it intended to form an economic structure that ruled out China altogether. The intension of Obama's promotion of TPP was very clear - to hedge against the RCEP, which was progressing with negotiations at the time. 

After the RCEP was signed this past Sunday, there was much discussion about whether or not a Biden administration would return to the TPP. The US now also seems to be considering the possibility of going back to TPP. The purpose will be the same: to contain China, weaken its overall influence in East Asia, and highlight America's leadership in the Trans-Pacific Region.

If the US returns to TPP, it will form a competitive relationship with RCEP to weaken its structural capacities and integrity. Trump was absent from the 2018 APEC meeting. The US has shown less interest in APEC since the last days of Obama administration.

APEC was an important platform for the US to dominate Asia-Pacific economies in its early days. However, with the economic rise of East Asia, the role of the US in APEC has been significantly reduced. Whereas Washington can no longer dominate the economy of East Asia, its interest in APEC is declining. But the country is still reluctant to give up - because this would be detrimental to maintaining America's reputation and leadership that it established during and following World War II. 

The US will soon usher in a new president in January. Biden is keen on regional multilateralism and is likely to take a more positive view of APEC than Trump. But in general, the US will not take it as seriously as it used to. 

The author is founding director of the Center for Strategic and Peace Studies at the China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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