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The APEC Summit in Port Moresby: Delivering Great Expectations for the Indo Pacific?

The Essential Background to APEC 2018

By Denis Bright

Australia will have an important steering role when leaders from the twenty-one-member Asia-Pacific Economic Summit (APEC) which will convene in Port Moresby between 12-18 November 2018. Some associate and observer states will also attend. These latter groups will include India, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Economic Co-operation Council and the Pacific Islands Forum.

The date of the summit is highly symbolic. 11th November 2018 is the century of the cease-fire in the Great War (1914-18). The anniversary unites all countries and associates in attendance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan will be in Darwin to join in the commemorations before travelling on to Port Moresby.

It should not be over-looked that Australian ANZACs were escorted across the Indian Ocean from Albany and Fremantle by the Japanese frigates. Britain played a major role in modernizing the Japanese Imperial Navy during the 1920s. One of US Vice President Mike Pence’s trusted advisers might remind him of the importance of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930) in the last days of the Republican Hoover Administration in antagonizing Japan as the Great Depression descended on the global economy. This time the US trade war is directed against China, but Japan and Australia are not exempt from the financial and strategic costs of the Trump Administration’s compromises with investment and trading ties across the APEC Region.

Just as significant for the morale of US delegates at APEC will be the fate of the Trump Administration itself after the mid-term elections on 6 November 2018. Without the wisdom of Nostradamus, it is perhaps safer to keep a watch on current polling trends for both houses of Congress (FT Online 22 September 2018:

Lighter Notes on Security at APEC

Australian special forces have been quietly deployed to Papua-New Guinea to help secure Port Moresby ahead of the APEC Meeting (ABC News 12 September 2018):

Senior Defence sources have confirmed elite Australian Army personnel are “on the ground”, amid concerns the impoverished nation’s military is not adequately equipped to control the large event.

World leaders including US Vice President Mike Pence, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison are all expected to attend the two-day summit.

“We have Australian Army and Australian Special Forces assisting the PNGDF (Papua New Guinea Defence Force), making sure the counter-terrorism provision of services is first class,” a senior member of the Special Forces Command said.

“We’re standing ready to support PNGDF to secure the APEC meeting and help PNG showcase the country to the world,” he added.

The ABC understands Royal Australian Navy warships will also be located off the PNG coast as part of Operation APEC Assist to protect cruise ships which will be used for temporary APEC accommodation.

Maritime security is a major focus for APEC security preparations, with Papua New Guinea’s maritime policing capabilities considered to be very limited.

It is feared cruise ships could be particularly vulnerable to terrorist strikes and will need the protection of Special Forces soldiers, who are highly skilled at boarding vessels at sea.

Defence has declined to publicly confirm the deployment of its secretive SAS and Commando units but notes “Operation APEC Assist” has been “at the request of the Papua New Guinea government”.

Despite fond memories of security breaches by members of the Chaser’s War on Everything at the APEC Summit in Sydney in September 2007, the elements of unpredictability are more likely to be in the Chinese-built convention centre (YouTube Coverage the Sydney Summit 2007

This APEC Summit will attract up to 10,000 support staff in a Melanesian capital which is not noted for high security or vast accommodation resources. Cruise ships have been hired to assist with accommodation and hospitality.

Anticipate Robust Discussions

With a list of participants as grand as the Versailles Conference of 1919, it is going to be well nigh impossible for one power bloc to control events at the APEC Summit. Discussions and compromises can be affronting to representatives of the Trump Administration at the APEC Summit. Tight security outside the Summit cannot control similar events at the forthcoming APEC Summit.

At last year’s APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, sub-plots were being brewed. There were positive outcomes in 2018 as a result as noted by the Asian Times (14 November 2017):

Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met on Saturday on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Danang, Vietnam, and agreed to normalize bilateral ties that were damaged by a flap over a US anti-missile system when they hold a summit in Beijing next month.

International relations have also moved in positive directions since Canada and the US co-chaired the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Canada on the Security and Stability of the Korean Peninsula. Against conventional strategic wisdom from the Trump Administration, the Canadian Government opted for a diplomatic window of opportunity to prevent war on the Korean Peninsula (Canadian Government 16 January 2018).

Good-will towards South Korea as a peace-broker, of course, pre-dated President Moon Jae-in’s election victory. As host to the 70th Anniversary Parade in Beijing to celebrate the defeat of Imperial Japan, President Park Guen-Hye was given a place close to President Putin and President Xi Jinping (Korea JoonAng Daily 4 September 2015):

BEIJING – President Park Geun-Hye on Thursday watched the largest-ever military parade by China from a prominent spot near President Xi Jinping, a symbol that the South has replaced the North – at least for now – as China’s favourite Korea…Throughout the ceremony, Beijing offered special treatment to Park to thank her for attending events skipped by leaders of most Western countries. On the observation deck at Tiananmen Square, Park was seated very prominently. Chinese President Xi Jinping was seated at the center of the front row, with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his right. Park sat next to Putin.

On Xi’s left side, a group of Chinese leaders including former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao were seated. The seating order symbolized China’s attitude towards its neighbours. The treatment Park received as a foreign guest was comparable to the protocol Beijing used decades ago to receive North Korea’s late founder, Kim Il Sung.

It cannot be assumed that countries like South Korea and Japan will always toe the line set by market ideology which was so important in the old Cold War Order. Essentially, most Indo-Pacific countries from India to Japan and Russia are developmental states with a commitment to varying forms of social market capitalism.

PNG itself cannot afford to stay within its current market ideology. Its occasionally spectacular economic growth rate oscillates with commodity prices. PNG’s resources are plundered largely by multinational companies that offer gleaming export terminals while so many local people struggle with food and electricity shortages, environmental vandalism and lack of urban security.

The island of New Guinea on both sides of the Irian Jaya Border with Indonesia is a vast network of resource projects which produce artificially high economic growth rates.

Yet the age of quisling states is unravelling. APEC and PNG itself are now at the cutting edge of change in a new globalized era.

President Trump is symbolically absent from this years APEC Summit. It is doubtful if he could cope with the likely robust discussions at the APEC Summit. This is a major post-Cold War event for our region which is worth watching in future news coverage. In the context of Victory Over Japan Parade in Beijing in 2015, even the seating plan is significant. This will be carefully steered by the government of PNG and its key allies.


Denis Bright (pictured) 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 globalization.


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  1. New England Cocky

    An excellent background article. Thank you Denis.

  2. wam

    great read denis!!
    Wonder when India and China will put the US consumerism and economic trumpisms into context and to bed?
    I loved the map but I had to look twice to realise it was not western australia.
    If the poms and septics had allowed the ‘little dark 4eyed slopes’ access to the winners circle after WW1 there may have been no WW11 in the Pacific.
    ps On the same track, if the poms had listened to churchill’s half-naked fakir in the 30s there may have not been the trauma of partition.

  3. Leila

    Great article Denis.
    Any cooperation with our near neighbours is a positive move on Australia’s part. We are part of a global world but we must never fail to support those in our near region. This can only enhance our economic future as well as safety & security for the region

  4. Paul

    Great article Denis. Thanks for sharing.

    Really looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of the summit.

  5. Stella

    Denis, thanks for a great article. Australia needs to foster a closer economic relationship with our closest neighbour.

  6. James Robo

    Vice President Mike Pence maybe attending the APEC Meeting to stand-in for President Trump. He will commute to the event from Cairns. This is not a good-look for the US Administration in a Globalized Era

  7. Tessa_M

    So the new slogan for APEC could be Not all the Way with the USA?

  8. Chris

    Interesting insights into one of our close neighbours and the upcoming APEC – I will be keen to see how it plays out.

  9. Alternatives Needed

    Everyone learnt at primary school of Queensland’s Occupation of Papua in 1886. This old style paternalism has long passed its use-by date.

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