By Penza News
The leaders of the economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum adopted a joint statement following an extraordinary informal meeting chaired by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and held via videoconference on July 16.
The meeting focused on tasks facing the Asia-Pacific countries and related to overcoming the global health and economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In APEC Economic Leaders’ Statement they recognized the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good and promised not only to expand vaccine manufacture but also to encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies on mutually agreed terms. This, as Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded the meeting participants, is currently being actively pursued by Russia.
“We are actively promoting the local manufacturing of our vaccines abroad based on technology transfer. Contracts have been signed with several foreign companies, including from the APEC economies, for manufacturing the Sputnik V vaccine in a total amount of over 800 million doses a year. We believe that it is vital to continue working together to create new facilities for the production of vaccines in the Asia Pacific Region, and also to remove administrative and other obstacles that might hinder their production and deliveries,” the Russian leader said.
Moreover, the parties promised to support their economies “for as long as necessary.”
“As we move beyond the immediate crisis, we will work to ensure all our people have the opportunities and resources they need to adapt to change – no one should be left behind,” the document says.
In addition, it emphasizes the need to form “a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment.”
Commenting on the summit results, Nobuhide Hatasa, Professor, Osaka University of Economics and Law, drew attention to the fact that for the first time in the nearly 30-year history of APEC, the leaders held an extraordinary meeting.
“The most important objective of this ad-hoc meeting was to deliver strong messages of the APEC leaders to the international community that they work together to overcome COVID-19 and rebuilt the devastated world economy. Pandemic of the corona viral disease has been a big threat to the global economy, and currently vaccination is the only realistic and effective solution that reduces the chance of infection and then helps bring economic activities back to normal. They consequently agreed to continuously support the voluntary transfer of vaccine and global vaccine sharing efforts,” the expert told PenzaNews.
He also expressed the view that the APEC Informal Leaders’ Retreat was a timely and perfect occasion for New Zealand to increase a sense of its presence in the Asia-Pacific region and extend its leadership in the global society.
“New Zealand is one of the honors countries that successfully combat a spread of coronavirus and minimize the number of infected citizens, and in this respect Prime Minister Ardern is highly evaluated for her skills as an administrative leader. New Zealand is an advanced country and is in the position of assisting and financing international movements of providing vaccines to all people in the world,” Nobuhide Hatasa added.
Rajiv Biswas, APAC Chief Economist, IHS Markit, highlighted among the summit outcomes a statement by APEC leaders about their commitment to improving global vaccine sharing initiatives.
“This would include the expansion of manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines across regions globally, improving sharing of vaccine supplies and facilitating transfer of vaccine production technologies. These strategies are broadly consistent with the policy goals on vaccines agreed by G7 Leaders at the June 2021 G7 Summit in the UK,” he said.
In his opinion, another key agreement reached at the APEC Summit was a commitment to APEC co-operation to strengthen the process of digital transformation, as well as digital infrastructure and technologies.
“APEC leaders also recognized the need to provide fiscal support for post-pandemic recovery, with targeted measures for job creation and building resilient supply chains. However despite the broad pledges on macroeconomic stimulus made by APEC leaders, much of the government policy support for economic recovery will be the responsibility of individual APEC governments at a national level, rather than any kind of jointly co-ordinated regional economic stimulus program across the APEC region. Nevertheless, many of the advanced economies in the APEC region are expected to provide bilateral support for the economic recovery of APEC developing countries, as well as contributing to multilateral development assistance programs through international financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank,” Rajiv Biswas said.
In turn, Clive Williams from the Australian National University said that the solution was seen as accelerating equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, however, he assumed that the developed APEC countries would prioritize their own populations first.
“The leaders remain committed to realizing the Putrajaya Vision of an open, dynamic, resilient, and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040, but COVID-19 has been a significant bump in the road and there are other major challenges to face – such as meaningful responses to climate change, China’s assertive regional activity, government corruption, and illegal fishing,” Clive Williams added.
According to him, APEC is supposed to be working towards goals of free and open trade and investment across borders, but that has taken a significant hit with the PRC using trade and investment as levers in its political relations with other countries.
“APEC supposedly operates on non-binding commitments, open dialogue, and equal respect for the views of all participants, so it is ill-equipped to deal with rogue members or factions. The members are under no treaty obligations, unlike members of the WTO or other multilateral trade bodies. Decisions made within APEC are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis – which sounds all very good in principle but is open to abuse and does not work so well in practice,” the expert explained and added that it is still better for the leaders to be talking to each other than not.
Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at East-West Center, expert on Northeast Asian international security issues, the extraordinary summit demonstrated the group can flexibly respond to an emergency.
“Nevertheless, US-China tensions were the inescapable backdrop for the meeting. The meeting could have been an opportunity for a first face-to-face interaction between Biden and Xi Jinping, albeit virtually and as part of a group, but Xi Jinping’s remarks to the meeting were pre-recorded. Perhaps part of the reason Xi Jinping did it this way was to retaliate for Biden not yet meeting with him since Biden became president,” the expert said.
In his opinion, even with such a technical and seemingly nonpolitical issue as pandemic response, however, cooperation between the US, Russia and China will not be easy.
Denny Roy also added that the groupings that include both the US and China are increasingly unwieldy given the stark and fundamental strategic divergences between these two great powers.
“Both China and the US found ways to indirectly raise the issues that make them strategic competitors. Xi Jinping spoke of working toward a free trade area in the entire Asia-Pacific, implicitly one in which China would play a leading role and would set the rules. Biden promoted the US notion of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ that is ‘values-based’ and ‘transparent,’ all of which is shorthand for a US critique of Xi Jinping’s foreign policy in the region,” the analyst reminded.
Meanwhile, Lak Chansok, Lecturer and Research Fellow, Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) in Cambodia, Expert at Democracy Promotion Center, Ritsumeikan Center for Asia Pacific Studies, Ritsumeikan APU in Japan, drew attention to the fact that the APEC leaders promoted sound economic policies to create jobs, increase economic productivity and advance innovation.
“During this pandemic, trade digitalization and innovation are crucial for secure, sustainable and inclusive growth in the Asia Pacific. […] A number of pressing issues related to China were also raised during the meeting, including the origins of COVID-19, human rights violation in Xinjian and Hong Kong, as well as Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea,” the expert said.
At the same time, according to him, there remain some problems connected with the ways to cope with COVID-19 and accelerate regional economic recovery.
“First, vaccine nationalism and vaccine politicization have remained troubling for not only the APEC economies but also the world to overcome the pandemic. Hence, some wealthy APEC members’ commitments to ensure the equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines remain questionable. Second, due to different economic standing of the APEC members, liberalization of trade […] is challenging for the developing countries especially during this difficult time. Last but not least, the APEC leaders meeting this year became a platform for great power rivalry,” Lak Chansok explained.
“The West criticizes China for COVID-19, human rights violation and PLA’s aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific. That is coupled with the recent US move to mulling digital trade deals aimed at countering China’s economic influence. On the other hands, China accuses the United States of adopting coercive diplomacy. If politicized, the APEC meeting might go beyond not only its theme but also the APEC pillars. It is worth noticing that effectiveness of the APEC is determined by its concrete actions and outcomes, and overcoming the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and recovering regional economy is the real and important test for all of the APEC members,” the expert added.
In turn, Sourabh Gupta, Senior Fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington, the global economy is facing challenges unlike any seen since the end of the Second World War.
“With APEC representing almost 60 percent of global GDP and with the major global vaccine producing nations represented at the table, this APEC Leaders’ meeting was about as good as it can get in concertedly bringing parties together in an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ mode to rein-in the pandemic and manage its economic consequences,” he said.
“It remains to be seen if the key member states will translate their pious intentions in the main statement into deliverable action on the ground. A global pandemic is no less a global challenge than climate change in terms of requiring a concerted global solution. Yet as we have seen over the past few months, vaccine nationalism and the geopolitics of vaccine provision have veritably become an arena of ‘disaster opportunism.’ It is hoped that with the major vaccine producing nations represented at the APEC Leaders table, all parties will pull together in the same direction in terms of prioritizing equitable regional and global vaccine access, especially through World Health Organization (WHO)-based mechanisms,” Sourabh Gupta added.
He also stressed that APEC brings the US, Russia and China together on the same platform.
“This is a rare occurrence. America is no longer part of Asia-Pacific trade and investment liberalization, having dropped out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For its part, Russia is no longer part of what used to be G7+1 grouping. And the US and China obviously are going through significant decoupling related tensions. So that global economics does not fragment on a bloc-based basis, it is essential therefore that these three countries nurture this precious institutional platform and put it to productive collaborative use,” the expert concluded.