MELBOURNE: For three decades, the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum have met to advance their shared interests in improving trade and investment across the region. This year’s meeting in San Francisco has a particular prominence.
United States President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have met for the first time since last year’s G20 summit in Bali, amid efforts by the two great powers to improve their fraught relationship. APEC is normally held alongside the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia summits, but those jamborees were held a little earlier this year, giving the trans-Pacific grouping some much-needed clear air.
Established in 1989, APEC was intended to drive trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific at a time when global efforts had stalled. Then US president Bill Clinton was the inaugural host of the leaders’ meeting in 1993. In the 1990s, the grouping launched ambitious goals about free trade and took on what now seems like a curious mix of members.
APEC is one of the few international bodies in which Taiwan participates, alongside Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. The grouping manages this by having member economies, rather than states. It also includes Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile, but not India.
While many countries use the “Indo-Pacific” label to describe the region, APEC is a reminder that not so long ago the region’s future was imagined in rather different terms.