US-China tensions likely to resurface at APEC summit – Community News
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US-China tensions likely to resurface at APEC summit

While much of the world is focused on the COP26 climate summit in Scotland, the other side of the world will see another key meeting on Friday and Saturday – the Asia-Pacific Economic Council’s 21-member leadership session, with presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, plus Prime Ministers Scott Morrison and Justin Trudeau.

This year’s APEC summit, chaired virtually by New Zealand, will seek, in the words of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, “to chart a path to recovery from a once-in-a-century crisis”. The pandemic is the biggest economic and political shock since World War II to APEC’s nearly 3 billion residents, who generate approximately 60 percent of global gross domestic product.

Ardern will seek to promote an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery and progress has been made following extensive APEC preparatory meetings. This includes agreement on a five-year program of economic reforms that will boost growth and create jobs.

APEC members also reportedly agreed this week to reduce or eliminate many tariffs and border crossings on vaccines, masks and other medical products important to fighting COVID-19. And New Zealand claimed on Wednesday that the bloc had agreed to reiterate a “strong stance” against vaccine nationalism to support the recovery, as well as its commitment to tackling post-COP26 climate change and also on trade. to make progress.

As important as these pledges are, the Friday-Saturday session is likely to show again the cracking of APEC’s consensus-based approach. Even before the pandemic, the consensus model was tense, with the group unable to agree on a communiqué during the 2018 meeting, while the 2019 session was canceled due to protests.

Ardern’s efforts to promote a pan-APEC approach have been undermined by squabbles within the forums, particularly between the US and China, but also between Taiwan and China, both of which have applied to join the comprehensive and progressive trans-pacific partnership. Beijing says it will block Taipei’s bid because the island refuses to accept being part of China.

Joining the CPTPP is the latest in a series of tensions between China and Taiwan, the latter of which has been barred from many international organizations due to Beijing’s insistence that it be part of “One China”. These tensions have escalated sharply in recent weeks, including repeated missions by Chinese warplanes in the Taiwan Air Defense Identification Zone.

However, it is the US-China bilateral rivalry that could hinder APEC the most. A manifestation of this tension is the differing views of the two sides over the US’s offer to host APEC in 2023, which would be the first time since 2011. China is cool about the US’s proposal and has yet to agree to it. , creating an unusual situation for the block, which usually decides locations well in advance.

America’s desire to host the event in 2023 reflects the White House’s broader strategy of shifting focus and resources to the region as it moves away from other geographic security concerns, such as Afghanistan. Biden wants to shape the regional order to demonstrate his country’s commitment to a free and open Asia-Pacific.

While the Biden team is flexing its muscles, it is aware of the Chinese juggernaut being mobilized by Xi in the form of the Belt and Road initiative, along with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the proposed Free Trade Area of ​​Asia pacific. These last two projects have been under discussion since at least 2004, but have become of new importance to Beijing since the creation of CPTPP, which the Obama team championed.

Xi has said FTAAP and RCEP do not “go against existing free trade arrangements”. At the heart of the debate on these issues, however, are contrasting American and Chinese views of the regional order. Beijing’s pursuit of the BRI, RCEP and FTAAP provides a non-US alternative model for economic integration, shaped by Beijing, in which its interests are central. It is in this context that the Biden team is starting to put out its own booth for shaping the regional order. This includes the new AUKUS security structure, comprising Australia, the US and the UK.

A key question for US allies, therefore, is whether the Biden administration will now step up to the plate and develop a comprehensive, well-funded grand strategy to anchor US influence in the region. In the post-war period, the US undertook a global institution-building project to fuel the growth of democracy and open markets around the world, including APEC itself. But with Donald Trump pulling the plug on US participation in CPTPP, a vacuum now exists.

And the danger for Washington is that unless Biden acts decisively, an irresistible momentum could build for a regional architecture that gives Beijing the upper hand, hurting American influence not only among local allies, but potentially further afield.

* Andrew Hammond is an Associate with LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.

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