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Terrorism takes over APEC economic talks

shanghai at night
China had been hoping to use the APEC forum as a coming-out party for Shanghai but has seen those plans overshadowed  


By Alex Frew McMillan CNN Hong Kong

SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- Terrorism will be the focus as the leaders of 21 Asia Pacific nations gather this week in Shanghai, even if it doesn't top the agenda.

The annual gathering of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group starts Monday.

A series of progressively more important meetings continues through the week, with foreign and trade ministers going head to head on Wednesday and Thursday.

The APEC forum culminates in the Leaders' Summit this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20 and 21.

That will draw U.S. President George W. Bush in his first overseas engagement since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

All about trade

APEC stresses that it is all about trade. In fact, it calls its members "economies," rather than countries. Its meetings are typically more symbolic than anything, a chance for the 21 countries to reaffirm their commitment to free trade.

"Whatever they achieve, the word that's going to be used will be cooperation, coordination," said Robert Broadfoot, managing director of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy.

When they gathered for an agenda-setting summit in June, the APEC trade ministers were building toward a "Shanghai accord." That agreement is likely to be brushed off again, becoming the cornerstone of this week's trade meetings.

But the accord essentially only reaffirms agreements that APEC has already made -- to abolish trade tariffs by 2010 for developed APEC nations and by 2020 for developing nations.

The 21 APEC members are also likely to call for a new round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks.

But again, those are sentiments the APEC nations have already expressed. The next set of WTO talks is scheduled for November in Doha, Qatar.

Protests noticeably absent

That location is the subject of debate, with security concerns leading some WTO members to suggest moving the meeting from the Middle East, possibly to Singapore.

Global conferences like WTO gatherings, the APEC summit and International Monetary Fund meetings will likely favor spots where security is high and crowd control strong.

shanghai tram
Mayor Xu promises there will be no Chinese demonstrators in Shanghai, where tight security already prevails  

The protests that have disrupted global-trade meetings in Seattle, Prague and Genoa are almost certain to be absent in Shanghai. Mayor Xu Kuangdi promises he can "rule out" the chance of Chinese demonstrations.

Armed soldiers monitor Shanghai, patrol boats troll the river, and the business district will close for the meetings. China has carefully monitored the visas it has issued.

As this year's APEC host, China hoped to use the forum as a chance to show off its bustling center of business.

The week was intended as a coming-out party for Shanghai and the whole country, with China on the verge of WTO entry, having won the 2008 Olympics and recently qualified for next year's soccer World Cup.

China is also still posting economic growth of more than 7 percent, driven by its huge and increasingly wealthy population. Those prospects are little dimmed by the world economic slowdown.

The dent from the Sept. 11 plane attacks in the United States, which kocks hope of an American economic rebound, will only slow China's growth one-fifth of a percent, according to Salomon Smith Barney. The investment bank forecasts China will grow 7.6 percent in 2001.

Closed-door talks

But the terror attacks have overshadowed what China hoped would be a showcase of its economic wares. Organizers are keen to dissociate the business forum from antiterrorism talks. That may result in the members preparing a separate statement on fighting terrorism.

Even the Chinese organizers admit that terrorism will be a major topic of discussion. With predominantly Muslim nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia in attendance, the ongoing U.S.-led strikes in Afghanistan are sure to come to the fore.

The United States is keen to seek a commitment to fight terrorism from Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the Philippines.

U.S. authorities have identified all three nations as home to terrorist cells and militant Muslim movements. They've gotten varying degrees of support in response, with Malaysia condemning the U.S. response in Afghanistan, while supporting the fight on terrorism.

Much of those talks will go on behind closed doors. A lot of the APEC action will take place on the sidelines, with countries keen to strike bilateral agreements.

Chinese authorities have proposed a three-way antiterrorism summit between Jiang, Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The Shanghai talks will give several newcomers to the world stage a chance to get to know their counterparts.

This will be the first Leaders' Summit for several heads of state, including Bush, Koizumi, Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

It is also something of a swansong for Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is expected to step down as general secretary of the Communist Party next year. He'll keep the largely honorific title of China's president until March 2003.

Jiang enjoys being the focus of attention at important official events and is keen to leave a healthy legacy.

While APEC characterizes its meetings as apolitical, an old dispute is adding an edge to the proceedings.

Taiwan, which attends APEC as one of the 21 economies, wants ex-Vice President Li Yuan-zu to head its delegation.

China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, typically does its best to restrict Taiwan's attendance at global events. It is saying it will only accept an economic representative from Taiwan, not the politically oriented Li.

Taiwan, which earlier this year gave up hope of sending President Chen Shui-bian to APEC, says Li has the right background to address terrorism issues and provide meaningful participation.

APEC's 21 members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Malaysia, in particular, has resisted the call for globalization and has seen backsliding on tariffs. APEC is likely to seek to dissociate tariffs from globalization.

But given the broad interests of its members -- from developing countries to the world's two biggest economies -- that may be a tough sell.

Last year's APEC summit, held in Brunei, closed with a compromise. Leaders called for freer trade, but said they would address the needs of developing nations.

Mexico will take over from China in 2002 as the host nation for APEC's meetings.



 
 
 
 


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