APEC Loses Influence to Other Regional Organizations in East Asia

The Americans came up with a more realistic project: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They recognize the existence of two regional integration projects, and their primary goal now is to contain China.

Valdai Club expert and political analyst Alexei Fenenko took part in a round table discussion held at Rossiya Segodnya, which focused on the APEC leaders' meeting in Manila, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Russia’s priorities in East Asia.

According to Alexei Fenenko, APEC has already lost its political importance and priorities.

The APEC Bogor Goals were adopted in 1994 in order to create a free trade area across the Pacific by 2020. The United States initially tried to block China's integration with ASEAN and provided its support to APEC early on.

The Asian financial crisis of 1997 delivered a major blow to the positions of the two key US allies in the Pacific: Japan and South Korea. Everyone realized that creating a common free trade area by 2020 is an unlikely proposition. APEC found itself in a semi-frozen state. President Obama made an attempt to revive APEC in 2009. Russia, too, attempted to join the game at the Vladivostok APEC forum in 2012, but to no avail.

The Americans came up with a more realistic project: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They are at odds with the idea of ASEAN having contacts with China and Russia.

The US policy in the Pacific is based on two conceptual ideas. In 1989, then Secretary of State James Baker said that it was imperative to prevent the emergence of a new dividing line in the Pacific and to prevent the creation of two integration blocs led by China and the United States. The APEC project focused on preserving this unity. The second shift occurred under President Obama’s watch at the APEC leaders' meeting in Honolulu in 2011, where the president made it clear for the first time that America’s goal was the TTP rather than APEC. In other words, the Americans abandoned the Baker doctrine. They recognize the existence of two regional integration projects, and their primary goal now is to contain China.

In addition to containing China, the TPP also focuses on ASEAN. ASEAN has a unique two-tier consultation system. First, its bodies develop general decisions, and then they combine their efforts to uphold them on the international arena. The Americans were not particularly happy with this. The TPP sort of gives them the right to a double precedent. If ASEAN and the TPP make different decisions, they’ll be able to choose the better one. With the help of allies such as Brunei, the Americans expect to break into the decision-making system in ASEAN and gain control over this organization.

The TPP started taking shape in 2005, but the negotiations intensified sharply only in 2011–2012, when everyone became scared of China following the events in the South China Sea. In the wake of their fear of China, the US got South Korea and Japan onboard with the TPP.

Washington was successful in using the South China Sea conflict to set the ASEAN countries against China. The United States is pulling over to its side the Philippines, Vietnam and other Asia-Pacific countries. However, as we have already seen, the integration projects may be thwarted by armed conflicts or major shows of force. The Eastern Partnership was stuck because of the Ukraine crisis.

The Americans will continue to play the China card. But China will not be sitting on its hands, either.

Regarding Russia, Alexei Fenenko believes that it has intensified its presence on the East Asian markets, and that it did so not in the sphere of consumer goods, but in high-tech areas, such as the space industry. Russia is an integral part of the satellite-building and suborbital space projects in South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It should also be kept in mind that China has always been reluctant to maintain space cooperation with ASEAN countries, because dual-use products are at stake here. There were major projects to build nuclear power plants in Vietnam and Indonesia, but they were suspended in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Thanks to a free trade agreement with Vietnam, Russia can revive its trade ties with ASEAN and the TPP countries.

The round table was also attended by Head of the Department of Common Problems of the Asia-Pacific Region at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander FEDOROVSKY; Head of the Research Center for Vietnam and ASEAN at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir MAZYRIN; a lead researcher at the Center of Regional Problems, Institute of the United States and Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences, Sergei TRUSH; and Head of the global economy research team, Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting, Alexander APOKIN.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.