At about 12:40 pm today EST, I will be doing an interview on NPR’s new “Bryant Park Project” show on the subject of the APEC leaders meeting in Australia.
I think that the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit is important for no other reason than that like a clock when the hour hand hits 4, the APEC meeting forces a good number of global leaders to focus on the Asia Pacific region and what is happening there.
In Washington, we rarely think about much more than Iraq and Iran as of late. Japan makes it into the news when a minister commits suicide, or Abe riles up regional historical memory battles, or over whaling — but not much else. China is an exception. Few Americans remember that Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore or Malaysia are out there. . .somewhere.
Australia, New Zealand, and the balance of the 21 member APEC crowd are also given short shrift in America’s collective international consciousness.
But APEC compels some momentary attention on the region, and that is good. Showing that America is interested in anything beyond wars in the Middle East is good.
Australia has elections around the corner. Liberal Party (the conservative party) Prime Minister John Howard is trying to stop a Labor Party ouster. Someone thought that a Bush visit would help bolster support for John Howard’s party — but thus far, it seems that Bush’s visit has only further cost the Liberals support among Australia’s Bush-miffed citizenry.
As far as APEC itself, the institution has lost its edge. By including Russia and a variety of Pacific Rim-located Latin American countries that simply don’t feel connected to the ASEAN/China/Japan/Australia-dominated character, the 21 member nation group has become unwieldy and inchoate. Almost no one talks any more of the grand economic objectives of the APEC 2010/2020 free trade proposals.
APEC itself has become another place for American leaders to meet Chinese leaders and Russian leaders — and for the Chinese to meet the Russians, and to be reminded that there are other players like Japan, Australia, and Indonesia that matter at the periphery.
That wasn’t why APEC was established — but perhaps summitry of this sort is more than enough justification for its existence.
— Steve Clemons