Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

APEC’s moment of truth in Da Nang

Reading Time: 5 mins
Delegates water a tree while they attend the inauguration of APEC Park in Danang, Vietnam, 9 November 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Kham).

In Brief

APEC is a regional organisation defined by its commitment to open regionalism and multilateral arrangements.

The overarching priority for Asia today is to give voice to leadership that can provide a foundation for underwriting the global regime on which it so utterly relies.


  • A
  • A
  • A


  • A
  • A
  • A

On that foundation alone, can Asia successfully engage its largest partner across the Pacific in APEC and protect its own interests in the global economic system? Can APEC’s agenda in Da Nang be directed to that purpose?

It will not be an easy task. The United States is turning away from support for multilateral efforts as it has even from the narrow regional enterprise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Engagement will require immense diplomatic effort and leadership from Vietnam and its partners this year and beyond.

That is APEC’s defining mission now.

No one country — even the largest economy or the second biggest economy and largest trader in the world — can make the difference alone in holding the line on an open trading system. But there is a powerful interest in pushing collective leadership on trade openness from Asia.

While Asia has its challenges, it is also the most dynamic part of the global economy. Hence the intense focus on Asia’s response to the slowly unfolding economic global crisis, because of its size and importance to future global growth and because of what it could deliver to the rest of the world through further opening up.

Asia’s economic dynamism depends in turn upon success with its own programs of economic reform. These programs will be made more difficult by a hostile external environment in which large markets are closing up. Confidence in the global trading system is important to Asia. It has underpinned Asian interdependence, economic prosperity and political security in the past and it will continue to do so in the future.

Thus in guarding these strategic global interests, Asia has a new and critical role to play. APEC is the theatre in which the action must begin.

So what’s the sensible game plan at APEC 2017?

For APEC to remain relevant and credible, its leaders must confront two big, immediate questions by engaging all of its members constructively.

The first is for Asian leaders to plainly assert the priority of multilateral solutions to global trading problems and to demonstrate their willingness to act in delivering them.

The second is to open straightforward dialogue among APEC leaders on how they might work to do a better job of ensuring that the demonstrable gains from trade are more equitably distributed within their national communities.

The first question might seem the bigger ask, given the urgency with which it must be addressed at the APEC summit and the cold reality that there is no appetite on either side of the US political spectrum for the TPP in any shape or form. But it’s not.

What’s left of the TPP (the TPP 11 group) needs to stand firm on its mission.

Already the East Asian members of APEC, along with other Asian partners outside APEC, are well advanced in negotiations on what can become the largest open regional trading and economic cooperation arrangement in the world — the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). RCEP includes not only the 10 ASEAN economies (some not APEC members) but also Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand.

This is meat on the table for the US president and offers balanced trans-Pacific trade engagement between East Asia and the United States.

To proceed with concluding RCEP now, with the TPP on the table, is the only credible strategy in Vietnam.

The second issue on which APEC leaders need to forthrightly engage is how to best deal with the groundswell — importantly in industrial country polities — against globalisation, which has been brought about in part by maldistribution of the gains from international trade and growth.

It is now an urgent priority to share policy ideas among APEC leaders about the most effective ways of achieving social protection and social security objectives in a way that complements the gains from efficient open economies.

A longer-term issue on which APEC needs to begin discussion in Hanoi is about how to revivify the forum as a primary platform for launching initiatives to deal with pressing regional economic issues.

Take the priority issue of energy security in an age of revolution in energy technology. APEC can be the launching pad for a major ministerial meeting to begin dialogue across the region on energy cooperation.

APEC could also take the lead in establishing a regional framework for ministerial dialogue on how best to deliver the investment needed to fill the huge infrastructure gaps across the region. In launching such initiatives, APEC should use its flexibility to include the East Asia Summit group in its deliberations so that there is broad and effective transregional cooperation.

The core of APEC’s founding principles and the lifeblood of its great achievements in sustaining regional prosperity and underpinning political security are under existential threat.

There is an opportunity to bring a positive agenda to the table. This agenda would define the way forward on a new wave of regional economic reform and economic cooperation. It would simultaneously boost the resilience of the global trading system, engage the United States on pushing back against the forces that drive anti-globalisation and take the initiative in shaping longer-term strategic cooperation on energy policies and infrastructure investment.

All three will help to secure APEC’s and the region’s future.

Peter Drysdale is Emeritus Professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University, Head of the East Asian Bureau on Economic Research and Editor-in-Chief of East Asia Forum. He is recognised as an intellectual architect of APEC.

One response to “APEC’s moment of truth in Da Nang”

  1. Thanks for an interesting analysis.

    I would agree that most people in the USA on all sides of the political spectrum were concerned enough about some aspects of the TPP to be opposed to joining it. But there are still many, if not most, in the USA who still want to/see the need to engage actively with the world and are willing to consider multilateral trade arrangements. Those who do are hoping that the current US trends will change with Trump’s leaving office in 2020, if not sooner. In the meantime, there is talk that the TPP 11 will establish conditions which the USA can consider in the future. I hope it is done that way.

    In the meantime, a boost to ‘…longer-term strategic cooperation on energy policies and infrastructure investment’ in the Asian Pacific would be a great idea. Eg, more high speed rail projects and more work on intra-national and international renewable energy projects.

Support Quality Analysis

The East Asia Forum office is based in Australia and EAF acknowledges the First Peoples of this land — in Canberra the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people — and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.

Article printed from East Asia Forum (

Copyright ©2024 East Asia Forum. All rights reserved.