The APEC economic leaders' meeting in Chile, which begins Saturday, will be the first international meeting where the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will meet after Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) took over as chairman of China's Central Military Commission. It will also be the first such summit after the US presidential election.
The numerous suggestions for free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years seem to be a reflection of a dissatisfaction with APEC's inability to coordinate regional economic policy during the East Asian financial crisis. Because APEC's 1994 Bogor Declaration declares that the integration of the region's advanced economies shall be completed by 2010, next year will be an important halfway point. The question of success or failure will have a major impact on the future of APEC. These factors make this year's APEC meeting extraordinarily important.
APEC is the only multilateral international organization in the Asian region in which Taiwan is a member. The question of how to best use APEC is therefore of practical importance in the current stage of Taiwan's multilateral diplomacy. At the same time, after the Asian economic order dissolved in the mid-1990s, no new "healthy" economic order has appeared. The wave of suggested FTAs appearing now to mostly exclude Taiwan due to Chinese pressure, even though this exclusion runs counter to the APEC spirit of "open regionalism."
If these agreements keep proliferating, they will weaken APEC, because such agreements block Taiwan's road towards regional integration. At the same time, APEC's ability to act behind the scenes will be reduced due to the confusion over its functions, and this will have a very negative effect on Taiwan's economy. Taiwan therefore needs to apply advanced strategies when looking at APEC development. Aggressive measures will be required during the APEC leaders' meeting.
Simply speaking, the nation's strategic interests in regional economic matters includes the hope that APEC will continue to be useful, and that its importance will override that of other regional organizations and trade agreements. After making APEC irreplaceable, ways must be found to expand APEC's role and the issues it should cover.
Some people believe that APEC has outlived its usefulness and suggest that a new multilateral organization be established. However, at a time when most Asian countries are unwilling to face Chinese political pressure head-on, it is very possible that Taiwan would be unable to join a new organization.
At the same time, Beijing is certain to use the establishment of a new organization to weaken the regional influence of the US and Japan and to set up China-centered political rules. Examples are the Boao Forum for Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, both set up by China. China is also using the six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear issue to redefine the strategic position of the US, Japan and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula.
Taiwan must avoid giving Beijing an opportunity to build an Asian strategic order centered on China, which would increase the pressure on and isolation of Taiwan. A regional political and economic arrangement biased towards China runs counter to the establishment of an Asia-Pacific order beneficial to Taiwan's democracy. Based on these reasons, there's an inescapable conclusion for Taiwan: APEC must be strengthened.