US, China: Two APEC Poles – OpEd

By Konstantin Garibov

Two mega-powers – China and the United States – are vying for leadership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization (APEC), Sergei Luzyanin, a professor of the Moscow Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and deputy head of the Institute of Far-Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in an interview earlier this week.

The APEC has two informal centers of influence – China and the U.S.-Japanese tandem. It’s hard to say which of the two will gain the upper hand, but most observers expect a tough fight for a “place in the sun”, or in other words, for economic domination in the region.

“The Chinese-American relations are a nerve, a pivot of world politics, around which a mass of regional, global, environmental, economic and geopolitical issues are rotating.”

China will use its huge resources to try to create a system of trade and economic zones and alliances, and is in fact already doing by spinning a spider web of hundreds of financial, commercial and other regional ties inside the APEC.

The United States is also seeking to bolster its influence in Asia and the Pacific and is pushing for a regional common market modeled after NAFTA – a free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The idea of a Trans-Pacific Partnership project (TPP) was discussed at the November APEC summit in Honolulu. Washington tabled a draft of a free trade pact that would comprise the United States, Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. China was not invited. While helping advance U.S. interests in Asia and the Pacific, the proposed new alliance would snatch the initiative from Beijing and may even replace the APEC in the future. China eyes its own free trade projects both within the APEC and ASEAN framework and also on a bilateral basis.

With Japan willing to participate in the TPP, its overall trade could hit $650 billion with the United States and Japan accounting for 90% of its combined GDP. The idea has sparked a negative reaction from Beijing, particularly since Washington and Tokyo already have a bilateral defense alliance, which they are hoping to expand into a trilateral one by getting India in and thus receiving the political and diplomatic resources needed to contain China. Sergei Luzyanin:

“It would be a very unusual triangle. The appearance of India in that bunch would create a complicated geopolitical situation for China. The Indian-Chinese relations are not fully normalized yet. India, which supports the South China Sea countries whose interests were hurt by China’s territorial claims, appears to be drifting towards the U.S.-Japanese tandem.”

Consensus as the fundamental principle of the APEC no longer suites the United States. So a scenario when it either walks out or significantly cuts its participation in the APEC is quite realistic. This is unlikely to be a matter of the near future, but it could happen in the next five to seven years.

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