The APEC Summit 2018 just ended in Papua New Guinea, a country that lies in the Southern Pacific. The atmosphere this year seems strange due to the disagreements between the U.S. and China. One of the most significant signs is that in the 25-year history of the summit, this is the first time there is no formal joint statement.
“You know there are two giants in the room”, said Peter O’Neill, the PM of Papua New Guinea. The conflict can no longer be hidden behind the stage. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke on the divergence and the joint statement, though focused on the WTO. The U.S. asked for the complete reform in WTO and inflicted great pressure on the representatives at the summit, which incurred the strong resistance of China because it would damage their advantage greatly. Since March 2018, the trade war has brought great uncertainty to the world political trend. Both sides refuse to yield, and negotiations haven’t brought any constructive result.
For the U.S., its movement is an uncompromising response to China. Since 2016, the rising conflict in the South China Sea has already shown China’s ambition of breaking out the block of the U.S., China has already broken through many traditional restrictions set by America. Meanwhile, the Belt and Road Initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have given China a stronger voice, which has threatened the leading position of the U.S.. Unlike America, the deal that China offered is more attractive and includes less additional conditions. The countries who accepted the offer are all going to get more profit from the bilateral or multilateral cooperation, and the fast economic growth can make it concrete.
What America wants is to keep blocking China in Asia. Vice President Mike Pence declared that the military base in Papua New Guinea would be rebuilt. This is a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, focusing on maintaining the leadership of the U.S.. In the frame of the new cold war. However, due to America First, the feelings of the allied countries is not the priority, which means that they need sacrifices in order to keep America providing further support and protection. Under this circumstance, those allied countries are more tended to accept the deal from a geographically-close country. The most significant example is in the Philippines. After Duterte came to power, the standpoints of the Philippines changed completely following the instruction from America and fixing the relationship with China and carrying out more constructive cooperation in many fields.
It is also believed that the U.S. was seeking for leverages to add more pressure on China for the G20 Summit. They eventually decided to yield, Donald Trump needs to yield with the “dignity” that he wants. He needs something to cover the diplomatic failure in Europe. But there has already been enough fire in the backyard of the U.S.. Before causing trouble for others, it should deal with its own issue.
But the overall fact has remained that there will be no winner in a zero-sum game. Countries with great influence should be responsible for the stability of the entire world rather than breaking the balance.
Gray, David. “Mike Pence Gives Xi Jinping a Look at APEC.” APEC 2018: US-China Clash at Regional Meeting Leads to Historic Summit Failure, Reuters, 19 Nov. 2018.