28.11.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On some events on the sidelines of APEC

San Francisco APEC 2023

During this year’s regular Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) regional forum in San Francisco from November 11 to November 17 the primary focus of attention was what was going on on the sidelines of the summit. That is, outside the summit and its agenda. But the same can be said for nearly all of the existing international forums, whose regular gatherings are becoming more and more like pointless rituals.

Negotiations “in a narrow group” of a few key players who approached them are far more informative than “collective” actions with a predetermined agenda in terms of manifestations and assessments of specific developments occurring at the current stage of the Great World Game. Because the development of relations between these players depends on the transformation of the picture on the global gaming table. This is what always happens when the accelerating process of radical breaking of the (“former”) world order is launched.

The major attention of the world media was focused, obviously, on the meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, i.e., the leaders of the two leading world players, which today are the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Yet a number of other meetings and events held on the sidelines of the APEC summit were equally interesting. Not so much by the outcomes (which are still difficult to evaluate), but more by their very existence. This proved to be the case, for instance, when Xi Jinping and Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, met.

In addition, the ministerial-level events held in San Francisco are noteworthy, of which not all were related to APEC. The American president’s announcement in May 2022 of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which was initially intended to keep China out of the process of constructing a regional economic cooperation framework, was nearly a direct challenge to the purpose and spirit of the APEC.

The primary goal of APEC’s establishment in 1989 was “to ensure comprehensive and sustainable economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region and deepen regional integration processes” of all the region’s economies. Despite this, the IPEF is not the first configuration whose very existence poses a challenge to this goal. During the APEC ministerial meeting, China International Trade Representative Wang Shouwen brought up the issue of the threat of fragmentation of the unified regional economic space due to the creation of such “narrowed” configurations as, for example, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and a number of others.

The genuine stance of the present US administration toward the strategy of forging relationships with the primary geopolitical opponent in general and meeting with its leader in particular is demonstrated by the fact that the IPEF ministerial meeting was held on the sidelines of the APEC summit. And that despite all the repeated indications to Beijing regarding the value of such a meeting to “form the rules of managed competition” between the two superpowers of the world.

However, there were other “stumbling stones” aside from the IPEF event that was previously mentioned when the US president and his Chinese counterpart sat down to negotiate in San Francisco. Apparently, anti-China messages followed from Joe Biden’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, held the day after the US-China summit.

Among other things, the release from the White House stated that both parties plan to “closely coordinate” their policies on China. “Historic” was the description of the August 18 Camp David Summit between the leaders of the US, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. Who did not miss a chance to meet in San Francisco, even if only “for a photo shoot.”

Add to this the fact that on November 12, right before the US-China summit, discussions between the defense ministers of the three nations were held in Seoul. We should also bring up the fact that the state department had finally reached an agreement to sell 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles to Japan, which came right after the meeting ended.

It will be possible to complete the tasks of a preventative strike against a potential enemy thanks to their inclusion in the Japanese armed forces’ arsenal. Having such an arsenal will be a significant step toward Japan’s eventual freedom from all limitations on military building and the use of force as outlined in the 1947 Constitution, which has not been formally changed since then.

In general, the Japanese prime minister actively participated in discussions on the sidelines of the APEC summit. His contacts with the leaders of two, let’s say, “close partners” of Japan, who are currently the ROK and Australia, were in addition to his frequent discussions with the US president. Both occasions saw the parties restate their commitment to enhancing ties in all spheres of communication, including defense.

But of greatest significance was, as was already said, the meeting that took place on November 17 between Fumio Kishida and the Chinese leader. Until virtually the time of its implementation, its very possibility remained completely unclear. Even though it appeared that a preliminary agreement had been reached on it a month prior. Which adequately reflects the complex nature of relations between the two leading Asian powers.

In addition to using politically acceptable wording to show that both parties want to keep positive relations, the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s description of the meeting highlights some “painful” times that prevent such objectives from being realized. The Japanese Prime Minister specifically brought attention to the circumstances in the East China Sea, particularly in the vicinity of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

The Chinese leader is unlikely to have viewed favorably the words of his interlocutor regarding “the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Japan’s position on respect for human rights, and the need to lift the ban on Japanese seafood imports.” Note that the latter were implemented as a reaction to the start of the process for releasing “purified” water used to cool the damaged reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the ocean.

Regarding the Taiwan issue that was brought up at this meeting, it has typically been listed as one of the biggest threats to stability in recent years, both globally and in the Indo-Pacific area. It showed up in a particular way during the planning and execution of the APEC summit under discussion. In reality, Taiwan is an integral part of this configuration, which is made up of “economies” rather than nations. The political aggravation in the Indo-Pacific area in general and among the major powers in the region in particular perfectly explains the urgency of the Taiwan representation issue, which surfaced during the planning of the upcoming APEC summit.

The absence of Taiwanese “officials” appears to have been a requirement for China’s participation (and even more so for the arrival of the Chinese leader in San Francisco), as was the case with the recent forum on the challenges posed by rapidly spreading “artificial intelligence” technologies held in Bletchley Park, UK.

It is undeniable that this matter was managed with great skill. Morris Chang, 92, the founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a leading maker of computer chips, represented Taiwan at the APEC summit. Chang is an American citizen. It was with him that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Vice President Kamila Harris, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in San Francisco. Nonetheless, the Chinese delegation shouldn’t have experienced any especially bad feelings as a result of his attendance at this event. Especially since TSMC also operates in mainland markets.

Generally speaking, the events that took place on the sidelines of the APEC summit under discussion brought to light incredibly intricate, basic issues that pose a threat to stability throughout the Indo-Pacific area as a whole. Among the good outcomes of these events is the seemingly stated desire of both opposing parties to keep communication channels open so that at least occasional “misunderstandings” can be discussed. Which certainly pushes back the prospect of a world apocalypse.

The fighters from paranoid propaganda, who appear to be eagerly anticipating the current regional wars to eventually expand into a full-scale global carnage, involving the deployment of nuclear weapons, will likely be unhappy by this news. With all of their horrible nonsense about “empires,” “eternal ‘Russophobia’ of the West” (which only exists in their deranged minds), “the military-industrial complex as the engine of economic development,” “liberation of Russian lands on US territory,” “campaigns to conquer Warsaw, Berlin, Lisbon,” and so on…

Apparently, many think that the very evident and disastrous effects of a world war won’t personally affect them. Not to mention flagrantly disobeying the age-old directive, “Seek peace and strive for it.”


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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