By Denis Bright
Tensions were always anticipated at the APEC in Port Moresby. Commuting from Cairns in Airforce 2, Mike Pence sought to high-jack the long tradition of consensus-building at APEC Summits embracing countries from a diversity of developmental and strategic perspectives.
PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neil was not bowled over by the megaphone diplomacy from the Trump Administration.
“All the outcomes of the APEC Leaders resolutions have been endorsed by the leaders but because of tradition China and United States are arguing about Trade barriers, and that part of the agreement was excluded and agreed to continue discussions by the officials,” Mr O’Neill said.
It was APEC’s Business Advisory Council (ABAC) which issued a broad-side against the inward-looking perspectives of Vice-President Mick Pence which severely detracts from the global prestige of the Trump Administration:
Senior business leaders from around the Asia-Pacific, meeting in Port Moresby this week ahead of the annual APEC Leaders’ Summit, expressed deep concern about the risks to continued regional prosperity from current trade tensions between APEC economies.
In their annual report to APEC Leaders, members of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) called on Leaders to continue support for the integrity of the multilateral trading system, to commit to actions that lead to the eventual realization of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific and undertake greater engagement with civil society and business to explain the benefits of trade liberalization. ABAC asks governments to adopt complementary policies to ensure the benefits of trade are more widely shared across economies, through real income growth for lower- and middle-income groups.
Pressed by a persistent journalist at a door-stop interview on the HMAS Adelaide in Port Moresby Harbour, Prime Minister Morrison admitted that Australia wanted to be an ongoing strategic friend to both China and the US.
Showing appreciation for Prime Minister O’Neil’s capacity to contain the tensions at APEC showed Prime Minister Morrison could offer a balanced perspective when he not playing the role of a Cold War Warrior.
I congratulate Papua New Guinea for its excellent hosting of APEC 2018.
Over the course of a year of events, Papua New Guinea did an outstanding job under Prime Minister O’Neill’s leadership and stewardship.
Like other APEC delegations, Australia enjoyed PNG’s very warm hospitality and hosting arrangements, done in true PNG style. And Prime Minister O’Neill deftly chaired Leaders’ Week events. This was no easy task given the range of differing views in the room.
It’s important to remember the outstanding achievements of APEC economies. The economic growth, trade growth and improvements in the ease of doing business in the region have been nothing short of remarkable.
Australia remains a strong supporter of free trade, and the principles underpinning the global trading system. We are also a leading supporter of APEC, and a close friend of PNG and other APEC members.
China has also been gracious about acceptance of Chinese Taipei as a member of APEC twenty years ago. Likewise, the US Clinton Administration took a tolerant line in accepting the membership of Russia and Vietnam in 1998.
US Vice-President Mike Pence was probably just testing the waters at APEC as a prelude to the direct encounter between Donald Trump and President Xi at the G-20 event in Buenos Aires (BA) on 20 November 2018 to 1 December 2018.
The likely outcome in BA is a cooling of tensions between the US and China as well as a willingness to compromise on the need for Chinese strategic hegemony in the South China Sea.
While Vice President Pence scurried back to the White House for a lunch with President Trump, President Xi continued his rapport with regional leaders with official visits to Brunei and the Philippines.
Further South, Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa agreed to join China’s Belt and Road Project.
These positives contrast with dire warning about strategic security by Vice-President Mike Pence at the ASEAN Summit:
The United States flexed new muscle in Asia Thursday with pledges to counter China’s expansion in a contested sea and set up a second summit with the leader of North Korea, which Washington regards as a military threat to Western allies.
“We all agree that empire and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific,” U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore.
Ironically the strategic advice came from the US as a non-member state of ASEAN.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neil relished in the cash bonanzas from US Alliance to assist with electricity infrastructure and the construction boom from the proposed Manus Base Island Base. PNG should of course be free to welcome the navies from the seven seas and benefit from associated tourism and community development on Manus Island from its blighted image as an Offshore Detention Centre.
The PNG economy definitely needs some stimulus as the mineral and gas exploration boom flattens out. For PNG, APEC has been the success of the new century.
Don’t worry about all this strategic bluster at APEC. It might not extend beyond the G-20 Forum in BA between 30 November and 1 December 2018 as the Trump Administration oscillates between the extremes of aggressive and conciliatory responses.
Economic data from PNG parallels the extremes of these diplomatic mood swings from the White House.
Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalisation.