APEC reveals irreconcilable visions of the future between US, China
- Asian Market
- 6 months ago
United States Vice President Mike Pence’s remarks at the end of this year’s summit season just about blasted the word “cooperation” out of the APEC acronym. Amid ill-concealed US-China tensions, it had already been looking out of place.
Pence unveiled US plans to help Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) - Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's (APEC) host this year - expand a military base on Manus Island, PNG.
In September, Australia had already announced funding for an upgrade of the facility.
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans famously declared in 1993 that APEC was “four adjectives in search of a noun”. As one of APEC’s founding fathers, he could be forgiven for getting the parts of speech slightly wrong.
But 25 years on, “cooperation” is looking doubtful. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum set sail in Canberra in 1989. APEC has grown to boast 21 member economies (where China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are listed as separate member economies).
During his visit, Pence put on a stern face on US policy, and in his speech to the APEC CEO Summit he reinforced the United States’ wish to build a relationship with China, based on “fairness, reciprocity, and respect for sovereignty”.
In earlier comments to the Hudson Institute he accused Beijing of stealing military blueprints, “and using that stolen technology, the Chinese Communist Party is turning ploughshares into swords on a massive scale”.
Washington now sees itself in full spectrum competition with China for regional and global influence. Pence portrayed China as an aggressive and almost imperial power with a malign regional vision.
In contrast, he emphasised that the US wanted to protect an open and rules-based system of genuine partnerships. He underscored the long-term nature of this commitment.
The problem, both for Washington and its partners, is that this new muscular approach to China is, as yet, not fully resourced, and does not align the military aspects with trade - notwithstanding the Manus announcement.