[News] Shootout at the APEC free-trade corral

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Oct 8 11:04:51 EDT 2013

*Shootout at the APEC free-trade corral*

By Pepe Escobar


What a photo - yet another instance of Bali working its magic. Chinese 
President Xi Jinping leads a "Happy Birthday" for Russian President 
Vladimir Putin, with Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono on acoustic 
guitar. You know who is not in the picture - he's in shutdown 
containment mode. US Think Tankland protestations notwithstanding, there 
could not be a more graphic reminder of the emerging multipolar order.

And right on cue, the Creditor, somewhat alarmed, pointedly reminded the 
massive Debtor, via Chinese vice-finance minister Zhu Guangyao: "As the 
world's largest economy and the issuer of the major reserve currency in 
the world, it is important for the US to maintain the creditworthiness 
of its Treasury bonds." [1]

Translation; just as Asia-Pacific gathered to discuss the messier points 
of economic cooperation at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 
summit in Bali, what everybody was worried about is the scary 
possibility of the US government defaulting on its colossal debts next 
week. All this interfered with by a sideshow - the Return of the 
Extraordinary Rendition in Libya and Navy SEALS getting their butts 
kicked by a bunch of al-Shabaab jihadis in Somalia, more than enough to 
bury any coverage of the APEC summit by US corporate media.

As predicted <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/CHIN-02-041013.html>, 
China was the star of the APEC show. It's never enough to remember that 
the 21-member APEC accounts for no less than half of the globe's 
economic output and trade. Xi insisted APEC should lead and coordinate 
the maze of free trade negotiations in Asia-Pacific.

He also insisted that any trade agreement should be "inclusive" - as in 
including China. Only then would it bear the requisite "win-win" 
trademark; as if Xi needed to emphasize once more - as he did - that 
China is the biggest trading partner and export market for virtually 
every Asia-Pacific nation.

*Behold the "Diamond Decade"*
The ongoing blockbuster in Asia-Pacific is the clash of the FTAs; there 
are a dizzying, over 100 competing free-trade agreements currently in 
play. Negotiations at the World Trade Organization are, to put it 
mildly, a mess. So a lot of players resort to bilateral and somewhat 
multilateral FTAs. Overall, the top contenders are the 16-nation, 
ASEAN-led Comprehensive Economic Partnership (which includes China) and 
the 12-nation, US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes 

Xi stressed over and over again that China favors one FTA to cover all 
of the Asia-Pacific. And as far as Beijing is concerned, that won't be 
TPP - which is essentially a major US corporate racket that will lower 
tariffs across the spectrum to the sole benefit of US multinationals and 
not small and medium-sized firms in developing countries, all this under 
the cover of a dodgy "highest free trade standard".

China essentially wants APEC to put order in the court. Obama has been 
too busy pivoting to himself instead of pivoting to Asia, more 
specifically Bali, to offer his spin - but the fact is Washington wants 
to ram up a TPP over its "partners" under a tight deadline, the end of 
2013, glossing over key "devil in the details" discussions over market 
access (sweet if you're a corporate behemoth) and intellectual property 
(corporate behemoths marketizing everything).

It gets curioser and curioser when one is reminded that APEC at the 
beginning was very much a US Asia policy stalwart. I vividly remember 
covering the APEC summit in Bogor, Indonesia in 1994 - when an 
undisputed Bill Clinton seemed to be dictating the future of 
Asia-Pacific. That was a sort of "pivoting to Asia" before the fact - 
and totally under American terms. Then, after the pivoting was first 
announced by then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2011, she 
spun it as the dawn of "America's Pacific century".

This "Pacific century" seems to boil down, so far, to enforcing an 
already embattled TPP. Bantarto Bandoro, from the Indonesian Defense 
University, seemed to get closer to the real picture when he told the 
Jakarta Globe, "this could be the beginning of the end of American 
global dominance."

While the verdict in this Shootout at the Free Trade Corral remains 
open, workaholic China proceeds. After its spectacular New Silk Road 
successes <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-04-130913.html> 
in Central Asia, Beijing has just proposed a - what else is new - 
Maritime Silk Road (MSR) in Southeast Asia, boosting trade between China 
and ASEAN.

Once again, Xi was the messenger, in his current tour of Indonesia and 
Malaysia; he beamed that the MSR would turn the "Golden Decade" between 
China and ASEAN into a "Diamond Decade". China is the 10-member ASEAN's 
largest trading partner (over US$400 billion in 2012), with mutual 
investment at over $100 billion and growing. Beijing sees this coming 
"Diamond Decade" as the bulk of the political/economic solution for the 
so far intractable territorial problems in the South China Sea, which 
pit China against four ASEAN members; Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and 

Xi already embarked on a charm offensive in Malaysia, and it's unclear 
what Vietnam and the Philippines will make of this "Diamond Decade" when 
there's so much unexplored, unassigned oil and gas to be found in the 
South China Sea. Yet once again, Beijing is playing the long game. The 
2014 APEC summit will be held - of all places - in Beijing. By then 
Obama may have found time to do some actual pivoting. And by then that 
may be too little, too late.

1. China urges US to prevent debt default 
Xinhuanet, October 7, 2013.

*/Pepe Escobar/*/ is the author of /Globalistan: How the Globalized 
World is Dissolving into Liquid War 
/(Nimble Books, 2007), /Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the 
/(Nimble Books, 2007), and /Obama does Globalistan 
<http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Does-Globalistan-Pepe-Escobar/dp/1934840831> /(Nimble 
Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia at yahoo.com./

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