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Securing Asia-Pacific integration

Publication Date : 10-10-2013


The diplomatic space created by the absence of US President Barack Obama was well used by China's President at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Bali. Xi Jinping made an impressive presentation that reiterated the country's role as a cardinal stakeholder in the future of the Asia-Pacific.

Focusing on China's new phase of development, as reliance on investments and exports is tempered by domestic demand as a source of growth, Xi sketched the outlines of an architecture of regional peace and prosperity in which Beijing would be a pillar.

This statesman-like vision is much more in keeping with China's core and long-term interests than the strategic impatience and assertiveness apparent in its maritime territorial disputes with Japan and several Asean countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's reminder that his country has left behind a period of political and economic sluggishness suggests that Tokyo, too, will be an essential part of the emerging economic and security architecture of the region. Greater trust between the two Asian economies will be critical in cementing the structure, to the benefit of generations of Asians to come.

Account must also be taken of the United States, a superpower whose strategic footprint is very much a part of the regional landscape. It is to be hoped that the government shutdown resulting from political gridlock is a temporary aberration that will not affect the country's commitment to the Asia-Pacific and its credibility in the region.

Of immediate interest is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a "gold standard" free trade deal being negotiated by 12 of Apec's 21 economies. The good news is that the partnership, a key American initiative, has not been catastrophically set back by the want of firm US leadership that Obama's presence in Indonesia would have signified.

It is important for all countries engaged in the TPP process to try and achieve a deal - whose timetable of end-2013 was declared to be still on track - keeping in mind the twin demands of securing an agreement that is truly wide-ranging and signing on to what they can sell their citizens.

One way of balancing ambition and realism is to allow those who are willing to forge ahead to do so and create a competitive momentum that encourages others to come on board later. Asean's experience of this kind of "two-track" process could be invaluable to the TPP, whose geographical scope is much wider than that of the Southeast Asian organisation.

At the end of the day, the timetable is important, but not more than the agreement's success in sustaining globalisation through pro-trade measures that will raise living standards in the grouping.


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