Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1272, (26 November - 2 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Summits not knocked off course

This year’s APEC Summit meeting in Manila was supposed to have an economic focus, but it ended with a declaration to intensify the fight against terrorism, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Leaders from the Americas and Asia converged on Manila, the capital of the Philippines, last weekend for the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit meeting. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was the first to arrive a week before the summit began, and though the meeting was supposed to be devoted to economic matters, in the wake of the attacks earlier this month in Paris it soon took on a political agenda.

“We will not allow terrorism to threaten the fundamental values that underpin our free and open economies,” the final communiqué of the summit meeting stated, referring to the Paris attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people, the twin bombings in Beirut on 12 November that left 43 dead, and the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on 31 October that killed all 224 passengers on board. The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for all the attacks.

The final day of the APEC meeting was marked by protests that included the burning in effigy of a vulture in the colours of the US flag. At the meeting, US President Barack Obama criticised China for its reclamation and construction projects in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Washington has been vigorously promoting a new 12-nation trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and host country President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III needs Washington’s support in his country’s quest to contain China’s ambitions but cannot afford to annoy Beijing.

From Manila, Obama headed to Malaysia, a TPP member, for a three-day visit after the APEC Summit to attend the Seventh Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-United Nations meeting, otherwise known as “ASEAN plus Three” or the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

At the summit, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang called on the Southeast Asian nations to ease tensions over the South China Sea disputes, but stressed that China was going ahead with its plans to develop artificial islands for both military and economic purposes in the South China Sea.

“In recent years, the South China Sea disputes have been played up to become a problem concerning the Sea’s peace and stability and the freedom of navigation,” Li warned.

The Philippines, one of the Southeast Asian nations alarmed at Chinese expansionism, was named in honour of King Philip II of Spain and was once the only Spanish colony in Asia. It is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and is the only predominantly Roman Catholic country in Asia, even though it has a large Muslim minority.

In comments made at the APEC Summit, the Philippines president said he hoped his country would join the TPP, saying that “of course we want to join the TPP because it offers access to a far larger market.” The TPP deal faces stiff opposition from the Republican-dominated Congress in the US, however.

While in Manila, Obama reaffirmed a US-Philippines defense pact, announced that Washington would transfer two additional ships to the Philippine navy and offered $250 million in maritime security assistance to allies and partners in Southeast Asia. He also held his first official meeting with new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Promoting the TPP has been a main goal of Obama’s trip to Asia, and the recent slowdown in the Chinese economy has sent jitters down the spines of leaders in both Asia and the Americas, including Canada and the US. US Federal Reserve Vice-President Stanley Fischer recently said that the Federal Reserve, the US Central Bank, was scrutinising the performance of the Chinese economy “even more closely than usual”.

In Manila, Obama also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two men seeming to be on friendly terms. China and Russia have been inching together more closely both politically and economically, and Washington has understandably been troubled as a Chinese-Russian alliance could easily develop into something more dangerous as far as Washington is concerned.

Meanwhile, three Chinese nationals were killed in the bomb attacks that took place in the Malian capital Bamako this week, even as the proceedings of the APEC and ASEAN Summit meetings were taking place. Chinese flights to Africa have been curtailed, with the Chinese now heading for the ASEAN region instead.

The number of Chinese trade, commercial, economic and state business delegations to Africa has plummeted this year. Fear of terrorist attacks is one explanation, but the Chinese quest for the minerals and natural resources of Africa has also been curbed due to the Chinese economic slowdown.

The ten ASEAN member states, in sharp contrast with Africa, include the world’s seventh-largest economy and have a combined economic output of $2.6 trillion and a population of 625 million.

In Malaysia, like in Manila, terrorism and extremism topped the agenda. Nevertheless, the ASEAN member states also had economic surprises up their sleeves.  “In practice, we have virtually eliminated the tariff barriers between us,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said, meaning that ASEAN has now emerged as Asia’s third-largest economy after China and Japan and ahead of India.

The headwinds of global economic turbulence do not seem to have touched ASEAN.

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