Securing Asia-Pacific integration

Thanks;AsiaNews 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.