Asia-Pacific economic ministers, faced with greater economic and financial volatility amid uncertainties about the US Federal Reserve’s scaling back of its massive asset-buying measures, gathered in the past few days in one of the few countries managing to thrive despite the recent market instability: Indonesia.
Business representatives from the 21 APEC members kicked off their annual chief executive meeting in Bali on Saturday, while leaders of APEC members are scheduled to meet tomorrow for the 21st leaders summit.
Former vice president Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) is representing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) at this year’s summit and he will use this opportunity to raise Taiwan’s international visibility, initiate dialogue with APEC leaders regarding Taiwan’s major economic concerns and promote the nation’s desire to play a more important role in the region. However, what interests Taiwanese most is his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) yesterday, although both sides have shed little light on their discussions.
Another meeting of interest was between Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), who joined Siew’s entourage this year as an adviser on cross-strait issues, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) Director Zhang Zhijun (張志軍). One positive note is that they referred to each other by their official titles, representing progress in mutual recognition of each government’s authority. It is also hoped that the meeting between the council and TAO heads can be conducted on a regular basis to improve understanding between the two sides and increase efficiency in dealing with cross-strait issues.
The theme of this year’s APEC summit is “Resilient Asia-Pacific: Engine of Global Growth.” Trade officials and business representatives have addressed issues of closer regional trade cooperation and further economic integration amid the nascent global recovery. Unfortunately, US President Barack Obama is absent from the gathering because he is stuck in Washington dealing with the US government shutdown.
Last week, Obama decided to call off his plans to attend the APEC summit as well as ASEAN’s East Asia Summit in Brunei. He also canceled trips to Indonesia and Malaysia. His decisions raise concerns that his strategic “pivot” toward Asia — declared two years ago — is running out of steam.
If Obama had attended the APEC event as scheduled, he could have clarified Washington’s position on the US Federal Reserve’s tapering and the US commitment to this region. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is filling in for Obama, does not carry the same weight.
Obama has been pushing for the establishment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for years to counter China’s growing ambitions in this region. His absence leaves more room for Xi — who made state visits to Indonesia and Malaysia last week — to further China’s influence in this region, even though the region is growing weary of Beijing’s territorial claims.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is likely to make a triumphant showing at the APEC summit following a series of successful policy initiatives at home and abroad, including the 3 percent hike in consumption tax, the moderate recovery in Japan’s economy on the back of his economic policies and Tokyo’s winning bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
For most APEC members, they would like assurance from Abe that his economic revival program can support growth in Japan. They will also want to hear about initiatives Japan may implement to strengthen regional ties for trade and security.
Taiwanese are mainly focused on domestic and cross-strait issues, but they must understand that international participation is the best defense — staying at home will leave the field wide open for China.