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APEC 2018 – building PNG’s image in the Asia-Pacific region

APEC 2018 conference venue (Post-Courier)
Model of APEC conference venue off Ela Beach


TUMBY BAY - We’ve seen a lot of comment about the profligate expenditure by Peter O’Neill on the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum schedules for Port Moresby next year.

Central to this has been the construction of a special venue off Ela Beach and the hiring of several ocean liners to accommodate the participants.

This has detracted from what might be a very important meeting, especially for Pacific Island nations like Papua New Guinea.

In particular it will determine how PNG develops its increasing reliance on the Peoples Republic of China.

APEC started as an Australian initiative in 1989. It was born out of concern by then treasurer Paul Keating that the Asia-Pacific region would fall under the dominance of regional trade blocs in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

Keating had in mind the need for the development of interdependence among Asia-Pacific economies so new markets could be established for the region’s agricultural products and raw materials.

The first APEC economic leaders meeting occurred in 1993 after discussions between Keating, by now Australian prime minister, and Bill Clinton, the American president. This meeting now precedes the larger APEC leaders’ summit.

The purported aim of APEC is to “promote prosperity through cooperation” in the Asia-Pacific region. One of the things it particularly advocates is ‘reform’ efforts for enabling business to flourish.

In 1994 APEC adopted goals that aim for free and open trade and investment in the region – by 2010 for industrialised economies and 2020 for the rest.

APEC has subsequently been an advocate for the concept of what it calls the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

FTAAP has largely been an aspirational idea but it gained new impetus this year when President Donald Trump trashed another proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Australia had sweated much blood over and which was part of President Barack Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’.

China was excluded from the TPP and was smarting over that. However, in 2014 it decided to use the moribund FTAAP, of which it was a member, as competition for the TPP and as a kind of economic revenge against the USA.

Papua New Guinea, as we all know, has developed close economic ties with China. It is also a member of FTAAP but not the now troubled TPP.

Hosting the APEC summit in 2018 will be a great way for Papua New Guinea to cosy up to China even more. China, always conscious of its image, has put a lot of money into the new lakatoi-styled conference venue off Ela Beach.

Hosting the APEC summit will give Papua New Guinea a free ticket to the next G20 meeting, which will do wonders for its exposure to the rest of the world.

So, as Charles Lepani says, O’Neill might be on a winner here – a huge ego booster for himself and Papua New Guinea. He’s also got someone else to largely pay for the construction of the venue and he’s conned Australia into providing security for the event.

That the Chinese might be pulling his strings for their own purposes or that Australia won’t madly install recording devices all over the building doesn’t seem to have occurred to him.

But he got the money. It’s a pity he’s not so smart at building schools and hospitals.


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