Sun, Sep 16, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Redefining APEC for a proper role

By Sushil Seth

Nelson might appear excessively alarmist, but he was not entirely wrong in expressing disquiet about the US' relative lack of interest in the Asia-Pacific region, where China now inspires both alarm and awe.

While new regional organizations and arrangements like East Asia Summit and ASEAN Plus Three -- of which the US is not a member -- might be overtaking APEC, it still remains a valid forum to take on a broader regional role to include economic, political and strategic issues.

But to make it representative and more sensitive to Asian sensibilities and concerns, it would need to include India as a member. By excluding Asia's second-largest country, APEC appears even more irrelevant.

However, no amount of reinventing and re-energizing of APEC can work unless the US reasserts its role in Asia. But this does not mean that the US would necessarily have to confront China.

What it means is that it should let China know that Washington has primary strategic interests in the region and that it is there to stay, with its web of security and strategic linkages with regional countries like Japan, Australia and India, as well as its commitment to defend Taiwan against a Chinese military attack.

But will it be possible for a new potential superpower like China to make a peaceful entry into a new Asian regional order? The experience of both the world wars would suggest otherwise.

APEC could be re-energized and re-defined, however, as the regional organization where conflict of interests could be mediated.

The Sino-US strategic equation is something which is uppermost in the minds of Australia's political and strategic elite.

Rudd writes that "China is modernizing its strategic nuclear arms and it's engaging in general force modernization. The challenge for the US and the region is to engage China in substantive nuclear arms reduction talks."

"Australia and the region should encourage China to sit down with the US to start this process soon," he said.

In this and other matters where China is flexing its muscles, a re-energized APEC could play a useful moderating and mediating role. Whether or not it will work is another matter. But it is worth a try to give peace a chance.

Sushil Seth is a writer based in Australia.

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