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Fostering a family spirit


APEC must ensure that it continues to be a platform for meaningful consultation and interaction rather than just a talking shop

As pragmatic economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region has thrived and developed in recent years, people pay little attention to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which has been committed to trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and economic and technological cooperation in the region for many years. Some even believe that APEC has become nothing more than a talking shop.

US President Joe Biden has excused himself from the upcoming APEC Informal Leaders' Meeting in Thailand citing personal reasons, strengthening the talking shop argument.

However, we believe this is a wrong perception. In the current changing international scenario and greater downward pressures on the global economy, APEC can shoulder its mission by sticking to its original role, and fulfill the responsibility of the times as a platform for interaction between the Asian and Pacific economies.

At present, global economic growth has shown a clear downward trend. The raging COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict have disrupted global supply chains and markets.

At the same time, the rise of the Asia-Pacific region has once again attracted the attention of the world. All kinds of pragmatic economic cooperation have made unprecedented progress. Economies in this region have continued to promote the integration in new technologies and digital connectivity, environmental cooperation, trade links, investment and participation in the value chain.

Data show that since the establishment of APEC more than 30 years ago, the total GDP of the APEC economies has reached $53.3 trillion, accounting for 60.7 percent of the world's total. The total trade volume in goods was $6.49 trillion, 17.21 percent of the world's total. The region reported an actual GDP growth rate of 4.1 percent, higher than the world average of 2.8 percent. It seems to be the region with the most dynamic economic growth in the world. Therefore, the argument that APEC is turning into a talking shop is seriously inconsistent with the reality.

APEC is positioned as an official "economic cooperation forum" and is quite different from the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and other organizations. APEC has always adhered to the "spirit of an Asia-Pacific family", and has developed an APEC approach of voluntarism, consensus-building, and incremental progress under the guidance of this spirit.

It put forward a more proactive "Pathfinder" initiative at the APEC Summit in Shanghai in 2001, which means APEC aims to take the lead in taking action and measures among members of conditional economies.

The initiative has helped make a series of free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region more pragmatic while greatly promoting the agenda of practical cooperation mechanisms such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the subsequent Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Although their progress varies, the mechanism is basically carried out in accordance with the voluntarism. The complexity and diversity of economic members are the basis for APEC's existence, and also the primary prerequisite for formulating every action program.

In the Asia-Pacific region, there are wide economic development gaps among the economies and their participation in international affairs, including trade, also differs. APEC improves and strengthens the infrastructure and capacity building of its members through regional cooperation. Also, it is involved in some non-traditional security issues related to regional economy and trade, such as security of finance, energy and food, public health, as well as anti-corruption measures and disaster preparedness and mitigation cooperation, in a bid to make use of its regional approaches and solutions for global governance.

APEC provides an experimental field and a new platform for developing economies in the region to get familiar with international rules and integrate into the international system.

It cannot be denied that although the initiative proposed by some APEC members has not been implemented in all economies over the past 30-plus years, it is not that APEC is weak in action, but that all economies make policy choices voluntarily on the basis of their own affordability and interests.

There isn't "one falls, another rises" approach but a "run parallel" approach between APEC and the various cooperation frameworks emerging in the Asia-Pacific region. Especially at the moment, the Cold War mentality has risen in the Asia-Pacific region. The prevalence of unilateralism and trade protectionism has badly damaged the global industrial chain. Up to now, some countries outside the region, led by the United States, still advocate greater intervention in the global supply chains and require rearrangement of supply chains according to onshoring, nearshoring or friend-shoring outsourcing principles, regardless of the development and practical differences among economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Actually, this is an attempt to rebuild the existing supply chain system in the region on the basis of the so-called "international partnership", continue to maintain their hegemony and start anew to dilute, divide and disintegrate the foundation for the big APEC family's cooperation. This will severely distort the flow of trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.

The world is in a state of great upheaval. It is believed that the big family spirit that APEC adheres to is the long-term driving force for future global governance and regional growth. The Asia-Pacific region still needs a platform such as APEC for consultation and interaction. China supports the "open, connected and balanced "APEC development path proposed by Thailand.

APEC should not only make efforts to avoid becoming nothing more than a talking shop, but also continue to play its role as a forum and promote the big family spirit to boost exchanges of views among economies. The reason is that the spirit and the concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind advocated by China are interlinked and compatible, which can provide cohesion in action and spiritual impetus in ideas for future practical cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, and continue to support the region's healthy, stable and harmonious development and the global economy.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the National Institute for Global Strategy at the CASS. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn