The 2013 APEC Leaders’ Meeting and East Asia Summit
October 11, 2013
Indonesia and Brunei hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting on October 7-8 and the East Asia Summit (EAS) on October 9-10, respectively. APEC is a forum that seeks to promote trade liberalization and economic cooperation among its 21 affiliated economies, including seven members of ASEAN—Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam—plus Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States.
The EAS is a leadership forum designed to tackle political and strategic issues in the Asia-Pacific. It focuses on a wide array of issues, including energy cooperation, maritime security, non-proliferation, humanitarian assistance, and health. EAS membership includes the 10 ASEAN countries as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, which joined in 2011 as part of its rebalance to Asia.
One of the biggest stories of this year’s summits was the absence of President Barack Obama, who was unable to attend because of the partial government shutdown . Obama sent Secretary of State John Kerry to fill his chair. He also filled in for Obama on a post-summit trip to Malaysia. He was joined by U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Unfortunately, Kerry postponed a planned visit to the Philippines due to an impending typhoon.
Q1: What were the main issues discussed at the APEC summit?
A1: This year’s discussions centered on achieving the 1994 Bogor Goals, which call on all members to liberalize trade and investment by 2020, improve connectivity through infrastructure development and lifting travel barriers, and maintain sustainable and equitable growth for the whole region. To help achieve the Bogor Goals, APEC ministers committed to reduce tariffs on environmental goods and services to less than 5 percent by 2015 and establish a public-private partnership to tackle non-tariff barriers in this sector.
APEC members also renewed their commitment to regional connectivity through the endorsement of a multi-year workplan on infrastructure and investment, and the establishment of guidelines on delivering bankable projects, which are designed to promote more private sector financing to help meet the region’s infrastructure needs. Members also committed to ease visa restrictions for tourists and business travelers as a means to spur economic growth. Individual countries, such as Japan and China, also promised to help improve the transport and energy infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific by providing aid to build roads, railways, and power grids.
In an effort to promote sustainable and equitable growth, China proposed an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance development projects in the Asia-Pacific. APEC leaders also agreed to take action on expanding economic opportunities for women through skill and capacity building, ensuring equal access to employment, and promoting the importance of greater market inclusion.
Q2: What were the key topics discussed in the EAS?
A2: Security issues played a central role at the EAS. Japan, the Philippines, and the United States pushed their allies in the region to use the rule of law to resolve maritime and territorial disputes with China. Kerry called on the six parties claiming all or part of the South China Sea to negotiate a code of conduct as soon as possible to resolve the disputes peacefully. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe encouraged ASEAN nations to present a united front in their disputes with China.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang, on the other hand, repeated China’s position that negotiations on the South China Sea should only be held between directly concerned parties and that disputes in the sea should not get in the way of ASEAN-China economic relations. Speaking at China’s bilateral summit with ASEAN leaders, Li proposed a seven-point plan for ASEAN-China cooperation which calls for increased economic, diplomatic, and security cooperation.
Other achievements included an agreement by ASEAN countries to adopt a haze-monitoring system and a pledge by India to sign a free-trade agreement with ASEAN by the end of 2013. ASEAN leaders also adopted a declaration to safeguard women and children from violence and to improve access to social protection in the region. The chairman’s statement called on ASEAN members to continue pushing ahead with regional integration, noting that they had already achieved nearly 80 percent of their goals for the establishment of an ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015.
Q3: How did President Obama’s absence impact APEC and EAS?
A3: Many heads of state were sympathetic, albeit disappointed, with Obama’s absence due to the partial government shutdown in Washington, prompted by sharp budget differences between congressional Republicans and the White House. Speaking at the APEC CEO Summit, Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong called Obama’s absence a “great disappointment” to many in Southeast Asia. The U.S. president’s absence also raised doubts about the sustainability of the U.S. rebalance toward Asia. Lee stressed that the United States must continually engage in the Asia-Pacific because it plays an important role “which no other country can replace,” a sentiment echoed by other leaders.
President Obama’s absence gave increased prominence to the presence of China’s president Xi Jinping and premier Li, both at the summits and during their bilateral visits in the region before and after the meetings. Prior to attending APEC in Bali, Xi visited Malaysia for three days. He signed a pledge with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak to boost bilateral trade to $160 billion by 2017, up from $95 billion last year, which would make Malaysia China’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia.
Xi also met with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta, where he became the first foreign leader to address Indonesia’s parliament, before traveling to Bali. Premier Li attended the EAS in Brunei and then traveled to Thailand on October 11, where he became the first foreign leader to give a speech to the country’s legislature in over a decade. He is slated on October 13 to visit Vietnam, where he will likely propose strengthening economic ties between the two countries.
President Obama could quickly make up lost ground if he gave a speech soon outlining the importance of Asia to the United States and its critical role in boosting economic growth and creating jobs. Upon cancelling his trip, Obama promised to visit Malaysia and the Philippines before the end of his term. He has also said he would try to visit Vietnam. It would underscore the United States’ commitment to the rebalance if he scheduled those trips early in 2014 rather than waiting until he is in Asia for the next APEC and EAS late in the year.
Q4: How did the meetings shape the outlook for the TPP and RCEP?
A4: Secretary Kerry and USTR Froman met with trade ministers from the 11 other countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement on the sidelines of APEC. President Obama planned to use APEC to urge negotiators to speed up TPP negotiations in the hopes of reaching an agreement by the end of 2013. Obama’s absence meant he was not in the meeting to use his personal influence to press for progress. The impasse in Congress over the government budget has also cast doubts over the United States’ ability to get legislators to ratify a completed agreement.
TPP negotiating partners have expressed mixed views on when negotiators should be able to complete hammering out the pact’s details. Prime Minister Najib said he is doubtful that negotiations will be completed by the end of the year, citing a need for further review within the Malaysian government. Froman said, however, that significant progress was made during his negotiations with the 11 member countries just before the APEC summit.
President Xi meanwhile pushed countries on the sidelines of APEC to commit to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agreement between ASEAN and six EAS countries with which it has bilateral free trade pacts: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. It is considered a far less comprehensive trade agreement than TPP, but also easier for countries not ready for such high-level liberalization to accept. RCEP negotiations began earlier this year in an effort to harmonize the different trade agreements within the region, and the participants aim to complete it in 2015. The United States, which does not have a trade agreement with ASEAN, is excluded from the negotiations, but would be allowed to seek entry once the pact is completed.
Murray Hiebert is a senior fellow and deputy director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Noelan Arbis and Kyle Springer are researchers with the CSIS Sumitro Chair.
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