Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

China: Put the E back in APEC

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum came to a harmonious enough end this Sunday with all twenty-one member nations agreeing to renew calls for North Korea to put an end to its nuclear plans and key player China putting its weight behind the pledge. Chinese bloggers, however, seem to have assumed a broader focus.

Perhaps anticipating a debate on (re)distribution of regional representation, Phoenix Television blogger Distant Horizon sets the tone [zh] for discussion on China's increasingly heavy and faceted presence in the region:


The APEC leadership conference was underway this weekend in the Vietnamese capitol Hanoi and American President Bush and Chinese Chairman Hu Jintao‘s summit has received international media attention. American Secretary of State Rice, accompanying Bush in attending the conference, in interviews given on November 17, made a seldom-seen comment regarding ‘deep worries’ over China's rise.


Rice, in the interview, first made mention of the Chinese military's ‘expansion’, calling it perhaps ‘excessive’ in scale. China's military buildup is very worrying for America, Rice said: ‘speaking of China's regional role, it sometimes seems especially large.’


Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and other Western media all reported on Rice's ‘worries’ regarding China's rise, at the same time providing introductions and commentary on the scale of China's military. American media, in mentioning Rice's comments, said that in recent years Beijing has been spending huge amounts on weaponry, adding submarines, cruise missiles, figher planes and other high-tech weapons in enlarging its 2.3 million strong army.


However, China's officially-released military expenditure shows an increase in spending this year of fourteen percent, at a total of USD 35.3 million. Outside estimates, however, put China's actual military spending at three times higher than the figures released.

Yes, times have changed in China and containment of North Korea is a role China must now fulfill, says military affairs columnist Return of the King in ‘China's APEC Triple-jump‘ [zh], but that's only two-thirds of it, expecting concrete economic initiatives with a very sinocentric focus:


China wasn't invited to APEC's founding meeting seventeen years ago, but as analysts see it, in these seventeen years, China has executed a beautiful ‘hop, skip and jump’ to move from a spectator watching APEC from the sidelines to a central member. ‘China at present has yet to fulfill the entry requirements.’ In APEC's early years, people once thus judged China. At the time, America and Australia and other developed countries did not have a positive stance on China. In 1989, following Australian Prime Minister Hawke‘s mention of his APEC stance, China expressed “willingness to take part in APEC”. But due to reasons known to all, China was not invited to attend the first senior official and ministerial meetings and China's five-starred red flag was not seen outside the venue for the first APEC ministerial meeting held in Canberra, Australia.


The disappointment was quickly made known. At the second ministerial meeting, everyone felt that with China's absence, APEC in reality didn't live up to the name. Indonesia, Korea and other APEC members made the point many times: China after all is a big power, its market is vast, this is why China shouldn't be left out. In 1991, following “nine months of complicated and difficult” negotiations, China entered APEC, landing its first jump.


In the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Southeast Asia went through a ‘groundbreaking turnaround’, from ‘soaring dragons and leaping tigers’ to ‘flying ash and flickering smoke’. When one-by-one each country put their heads down, busy taking care of themselves, China announced that the Renminbi had not devalued. “China remains a friend in time of need,” as former APEC official Wang Mengsheng said to reporters, whose generosity led the troubled APEC members to take notice, raising China's reputation in APEC and by way of ‘soft power’, landing the country's second leap.


In 2005, Associated Press quoted former APEC executive director William Bodde as saying, “When it first entered APEC, China was still only a major country member. After 911, America couldn't keep its attention focused on Asian economics and China, due to speeded-up economic development, came to play an increasingly key role.” At present, issues closely affecting American interests such as the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons, the Iran problem, and any major problem in the Asia-Pacific region, all require China's cooperation. Analysts see this as evidence that China has landed its third leap.


While China's role in APEC is constantly changing, the nature of APEC itself and the loads it bears are also undergoing changes, with a trend increasingly clear, the two kinds of changes inseparable and interdependent. An important theme to this APEC meeting is pushing for freer trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Former Chinese APEC officer Wang Mengsheng points out that America will very likely suggest the establishment of an Asia-Pacific Free Trade zone at this meeting. Although America's attitude toward free trade in APEC in the past was never either passive nor enthusiastic, it has changed its mind this time, and quite radically. With this background of playing devil's advocate to free trade in the Asia-Pacific, their intentions appear faint.


Judging from America's newspapers, magazines and internet forums, the American government is on the receiving end of East Asian powers’ ever-increasing discontent, feeling a lot like a crisis. America looks to benefit from this APEC meeting by establishing itself in the Asia-Pacific region's economic expansion. Or else, as America sees it, the cake of East and Southeast Asia wealth will be quickly divided up by ‘up and coming powers’, and America's future in East Asia will be ‘an awkward situation’. One-by-one, American media are writing articles about ‘strong challenges to American hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region’, and the academic world is beginning to discuss, urging the government to ‘properly deal with all the new circumstances brought about by newly rising powers.’


Assistant Dean of Peking University‘s School of International Relations Jia Qingguo feels that China's development, in terms of America, is not a mutually-exclusive zero-sum game, but the existence of a mutually-benefitting space for cooperation. Wang Mengsheng also feels America's stance is a bit worrying, almost like a product of ‘cold war mentality’. As for the free trade region plan, due to an underestimation of the massive developmental gaps between each members, there's a bit of a ‘haste in operations’. But, with every country having consulted with APEC, increased liberalization for trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region is just a sign of the times.

Ostensibly, at least, for major Chinese trading partner Canada who seems to have lost the chance to engage Chairman Hu in serious discussion on issues such as trade, investment and human rights—Huseyincan Celil, for starters—following Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s confusion over whether or not the leaders of the two countries were slated to meet. More background on the Canadian side from Sina blogger Little Leaf [zh]:


Since the Conservative Party of Canada‘s coming into office in January this year, there have been a few incidents purported to have made China unhappy. One of those is the Prime Ministers’ parliamentary secretary Jason Kenney‘s meeting earlier this year with the Dalai Lama. Other than this, until now the Conservative Party has yet to send a high-level official to visit China. Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter MacKay only met with the Chinese ambassador to Canada on the 6th [this month].


Canada's business community has also been complaining nonstop about the Conservative Party's lack of an active attempt to associate with China. The business community worries that economic relations between the two countries might be negatively affected as a result.


Conservative Party officials have admitted recently that parliament is currently debating whether or not it's still necessary to enter into human rights discussions with China annually. Canada's Conservative Party and parliament often maintain a critical attitude towards China's state of human rights and stance on Taiwan.


Harper did meet with Hu Jintao during the G8 meeting held in Russia this year. In an interview with Sing Tao Daily in Vancouver, Harper expressed hope to meet privately with Hu Jintao for as long as possible during the APEC summit.


One informed source in Canada says although Harper and Hu Jintao might in the end meet, there won't be much importance to their discussion. This informed source says that relations between Canada and China are in a sort of wait-and-see state. The current Harper leadership is a minority government and everything is unstable. China particularly hopes to establish longterm relations with a stable government.

Fabulous photos from Hanoi at BBS website Daqi.


  • Hi John, I’m working at City Weekend as the e publisher and managing editor. I’m sorry to contact through this comment posting, but I couldn’t find your email address via the site. Recently, our CEO Tim Murray, ran into a mutual contact of yours (her name was Rebecca. I don’t have her last name off hand.) She recommended that you and I get in touch about the blogging communitty in China. When you’re free, please drop me a line. We can speak over the phone or via email. Best, Collin

  • […] Speaking strictly by percentage, rabid nationalistic discourse tends to dominate online discussion in China, but the reason so little of this is reflected here at Global Voices Online is that one hopes to engage in balanced conversation, but in the Celil incident, this week at least, all the bloggage this blogger was able to find leans heavily in the Chinese government’s favor. For example, random comments on blogs found in the first two pages of results in the search described above: […]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency

No thanks, show me the site