What’s the difference between China and APEC
(Part one of a series)
This is the first of a short series I’ll be making about the alliances that China is involved in. Hopefully, as we go through you’ll learn a little as I know I have done as I started the research.
The world is full of acronyms and abbreviations and, because I live in China and do a lot of research about what China is up to in the world, I get asked a lot of questions about China’s involvement.
China isn’t involved in NATO, that’s the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, although there are moves afoot to bring Australia and other places, even China’s province of Taiwan into something called a NATO Plus Group which seems to be a long way from the North Atlantic making NATO more of a geopolitical alignment than a geographical mutual defence organisation but that’s another story.
This story is of Asia and the Pacific Region. And the acronyms which make up the region. I’m often asked what’s the difference between ASEAN and the RCEP, or does BRICS mean the same as Belt and Road Initiative, or how is One Belt One Road different and how does the SCO or APEC fit into things. This series will address some of the questions. This first part will look at APEC and the G20 because they are both happening in the next few days
The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a forum designed to secure growth and ease administrative burdens for the 21 members, of which both the USA and China as well as Chinese Taipei are included. It has a permanent office called a Secretariat in Singapore and meets regularly, the APEC CEO Summit for 2022 will take place in Thailand on the 18th and 19th of November this year. The G20 Summit is on 14th and 15th of the same month so many people will head directly from one to the other. Causing some people to think they are the same, or similar things; they are not.
They are quite different. First of all, APEC includes many less developed countries but none in Africa and only two, Peru and Chile in South America although Mexico, technically part of North America, is also included. Canada, the US and Russia are represented but the vast majority of member countries are located on the Western side of the Pacific North of New Zealand and South of China.
A glance through the topics which APEC covers will show that they are very much focused on trade and economies, they work to enhance cooperation in digital technologies, health and education, deregulation, energy, finance and many others but all within the Asia Pacific Region.
The G20 on the other hand, is focused on Global issues as the last Summit Leader’s Declaration from Rome last year announced, they met to: address today’s most pressing global challenges and to converge upon common efforts to recover better from the COVID-19 crisis and enable sustainable and inclusive growth in our Countries and across the world”. A glance through the topics to be discussed shows a far reaching and global focus.
On the agenda of G20 in Bali there will be, under the slogan “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” three main topics: Global Health Architecture; Digital Transformation is also there; and Sustainable Energy Transition. Each of these main topics is supported by a series of 13 fora which allow for discussion by hundreds of delegates throughout the year who will make recommendations. It is these people who do the work in the G20, not the leaders who attend a Summit once a year.
The heads of states of 20 of the world’s richest nations meet for this but, to say they are the top 20 richest countries is wrong. Spain is a permanent guest not a full member but would be number 14, if it were counted in the top 20. Argentina and South Africa, 21 and 33 respectively, on the same list, wouldn’t even be members if it were really the top 20. The G20 accounts for 80% of the world’s GDP and represents 19 countries, 20 if we count Spain, and one Region, the EU which all come from the top 33 economies of the world not the top 20.
It’s fair to say there will be some metaphorical, if not actual sparks flying as Biden and Putin share the room and, at the time of writing Ukraine’s President Zelensky has declared he will not attend if President Putin is going to be there. However, it remains to be seen if he will accept President Joko Widodo’s invitation and may attend virtually. Biden himself has already suggested Russia be removed from the G20, but then again, Biden has said a few things which his State Department or White House Administration have needed to walk back before and, there are many pundits claim such a meeting will be announced imminently, can’t be ruled out, and is under discussion. We’ll know in a few days.
One thing is absolutely certain, there will be a number of speeches denouncing Russia in this Summit but what will be most interesting will be to see countries, such as China, who won’t denounce Russia, those are the countries that are in the G20 for genuine peaceful reasons rather than political gain. But the G20 is most unusual in that it doesn’t have a Charter, the rotating president sets the agenda with the help of the preceding and succeeding presidents, this is known as the Troika. So, it’s a little hard to define what the purpose of the G20 is and this allows leaders to either choose to contribute for global benefit, political gain or capitalise on an opportunity to better their own nation.
G20 is complicated, many people say it’s nothing but a “talk-fest” but there is evidence that much of what’s done there does achieve results. However, others beg to differ, saying the results are usually to the benefit of the countries present that they would likely have been achieved if there weren’t a G20.
Whilst G20 has both supporters and critics, an impartial observer would probably note that the meetings which go on all year and behind the scenes do indeed have the ability to move the world forward in positive ways. The two-day Leaders’ Summit, which is the part that gets all the headlines is certainly a talk fest, a range of photo opportunities achieving little except handshakes, talking points, headlines and front-page promos for each of the member countries leaders. These leaders have the opportunity to describe targets and goals related to how their country can contribute to global problems such as climate change, war and pandemics as well as improvements in health, security, education, employment, gender and other important issues. What some do, instead is aim for sensational headlines which they hope will boost their election prospects.
In 2021 for example, one of the key takeaways of the entire Summit, and one which Joe Biden, in his closing speech was extremely pleased about, was the introduction of a minimum 15% Global Tax, something America had been working towards for a long time. However, one year later, it looks unlikely the EU will achieve this before 2024, Switzerland cannot achieve this without a change to its constitution and the USA, the proposer of the strategy, is still working on how to implement it through a complicated legislative structure which is heavily supported by lobbyists and donors who don’t want this tax.
He went on to suggest that he, with Prime Ministers Johnson, Merkel (sic) and President Macron, had decided diplomacy would be the best way to deal with Iran, something his State Department doesn’t seem to have received the memo about, as there hasn’t been much in the way of diplomacy where Iran is concerned. He also notes that the Build Back Better plan (BBB), which “God willing would be voted on next week” would help Americans. Clearly God was not willing because that piece of legislation is still stalled due to one of his own party members rejecting it. In fact, much of his 5-minute speech was related to American workers, American benefits and American leadership which probably indicates the critics of G20, at least as far as the US are concerned, are absolutely correct, there’s more talk and headlines than actionable policies.
APEC and G20, two very different meetings happening in the same region. But, because some of the attendees of one will attend the other as they move from meetings in Indonesia to more meetings in Thailand two days later, people will inevitably link the two by thinking there are some benefits in cross-referencing issues but the fact is, APEC and G20 are poles apart in their membership, their ideologies, their purposes and even their alliances.
Nominally, both groups have 21 members, and there are nine countries which are members of both. Since they serve different purposes and have entirely different agendas, members might very much agree with initiatives of the G20 and vehemently oppose initiatives put forward by APEC, or vice versa. One thing is quite certain though: China and Russia, being members of both will be more favourably received at APEC as many of the membership countries rely heavily them for trade, while at G20, a membership made up of elites represent over 80% of GDP and 70% of global trade the reliance is still there for China but a lot less so for Russia. The 21 members of APEC represent 60% of GDP and 48% of trade. Take the US and China away from APEC the contribution to World GDP and trade drops considerably but take the same contribution away from G20 and the group still controls a significant percentage of the world’s economy and its wealth.
Clearly, there will be some leaders, some ministers and many representatives of the nine member countries of both groups attending both major international meetings. But, when they leave Indonesia and head to Thailand, they will need to put on a different thinking cap and handle things in a different way.
 Australia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia and the United States