According to the APEC official website, the concept and history of APEC can be summarized as follows: “The idea of APEC was firstly publicly broached by the former prime minister of Australia Bob Hawke during a speech in Seoul, Korea, on 31 January 1989. Ten months later, 12 Asia-Pacific economies met in Canberra to establish APEC. (1989 1st meeting) The founding members were Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Indonesia; Japan; Korea; Malaysia; New Zealand; the Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; and the United States.”
It is important to point out that China’s economy was improving in the late 1980s but according to the APEC history, “China; Hong Kong, China; and Chinese Taipei joined in 1991 (3rd meeting in Seoul, Korea). Mexico and Papua New Guinea followed in 1993. (4th meeting in Blake’s Island, U.S.). Chile acceded in 1994. In 1998 (9th meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Peru, Russia, and Viet Nam joined, taking the full membership to 21.”
“Between 1989 and 1992, APEC met as an informal senior official- and ministerial-level dialogue. In 1993 (4th meeting in Blake’s Island, U.S.), former US President Bill Clinton established the practice of an annual APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting to provide greater strategic vision and direction for cooperation in the region.” Clinton’s foresight of APEC’s importance is commendable.
APEC is a regional economic forum for its current 21 members aiming to leverage the growing interdependence of the Asia-Pacific and to create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative, and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration. Detailed APEC’s goals and progress can be seen from its annual forum declaration and projects planned. In 2001 (12th meeting in Shanghai, China), APEC declared ‘Meeting New Challenges in the New Century’ and APEC Leaders issued a ‘Statement on Counter-Terrorism’. Interestingly, in 2011 (22nd meeting, Honolulu, U.S.), ‘Toward a Seamless Regional Economy’ was declared. At this point, APEC still could be viewed as a harmonious organization promoting its goals while China had become the world's number two economy.
Then with a domestic budget impasse and concerns about China’s rapid rise in its economy and influence in APEC, U.S. President Obama was absent in the 2013 APEC (24th meeting in Bali, Indonesia) causing a diplomatic shock wave in the world. The U.S. was openly revealing its new ‘return to Asia Pacific strategy’. Indeed, China was doing very well in its economic development and announced in September 2013 in Kazakhstan (and October in Indonesia) an ambitious economic plan, called one belt and one road, later referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The next year, 2014 (25th APEC meeting, Beijing, China), ‘the Beijing Agenda for an Integrated, innovative, and Interconnected Asia-Pacific’ is declared. This declaration and others in following years stressed human development and cooperation, digital and shared future, and community and green development; however, U.S. President Trump decided to skip the 2018 APEC meeting and accelerated his launch of a trade war against China which impacted others. In 2019, Chile canceled the APEC Leaders meeting due to street unrest, and Malaysia and New Zealand held virtual APEC Leaders meeting in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
The 2022 APEC meeting held in Bali; Indonesia was a turning point for Asia-Pacific. The COVID world pandemic did its damage and was ceding away but the U.S.-China relation was not amended but stressed by the Biden Administration. Biden expanded Trump’s anti-China strategy with an all-out plan targeting China as the most serious competitor requiring aligning all U.S. allies to join together against China with commerce, finance, and technology sanctions and military alliances, like AUKUS and Quad. Biden’s plan so far did not score much winning points. The APEC members especially ASEAN countries did not want to take sides in the U.S.-China confrontation as exhibited by the lukewarm attendances of the ‘democracy summits’ organized by the U.S. Biden decided to attend the 2022 APEC and sought a bilateral meeting with President Xi in Bali which indeed occurred for three hours.
According to the White House readout, “The two leaders spoke candidly about their respective priorities and intentions across a range of issues. President Biden
explained that the United States will continue to compete vigorously with the PRC, including by investing in sources of strength at home and aligning efforts with allies and partners around the world. He reiterated that this competition should not veer into conflict and underscored that the United States and China must manage the competition responsibly and maintain open lines of communication. The two leaders discussed the importance of developing principles that would advance these goals and tasked their teams to discuss them further.” Biden’s attendance at the 2022 APEC and the U.S. being the host of the 2023 APEC could be viewed as a turning point for APEC and U.S.-China Relations. This can be further explained as follows.
Biden’s plan included an expanded commerce and technology sanction against China, but the result is an increased trade surplus favoring China. In the meantime, the technology sanctions, such as semiconductors, did not slow down China’s accelerated development in technologies. China’s high-tech manufacturing such as the electric car, had become the world’s number one producer. China had never slowed down in its space station project; instead it had sent the world’s largest payload to space. Post COVID Pandemic, China has quickly returned to its full thrust of the economy with a GDP growth rate three times or more of the U.S. It makes sense for the U.S. to seek dialogue with China and thaw the tension rather than playing diplomatic tricks, such as the one-China principle. In May, the U.S. Commerce Secretary Raimondo and Trade Representative Katherine Dai had taken advantage of an APEC meeting opportunity to meet the Chinese Trade Minister, Wang Wen Tao. These dialogue efforts ultimately will produce understanding: Why China sees the U.S. playing a hypocritical (double standard) foreign and economic policies against China? Why the U.S. feels so insecure about a hypothetical threat from China?
The coming 2023 APEC Leaders meeting in San Francisco in November, offers a great opportunity for Biden and Xi to meet again in person for a candid follow-up. With better understanding and realistic analysis, both sides as members of APEC perhaps would come to an agreement that rational competition and a responsible manner of managing conflicts are the best approaches to U.S.-China relations. Pacific is large enough to accommodate two great nations situated tens of thousands of miles apart promoting APEC and world economic goals.