APEC a chance for Obama to prioritise issues regarding the region
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Last Updated: Sunday, November 15, 2009, 09:32
APEC a chance for Obama to prioritise issues regarding the regionUS President Barack Obama will participate in the 17th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meet in Singapore after visiting Japan.

APEC will provide Obama a significant opportunity, not just to engage with the dynamic economies of the Pacific Rim and Singapore, but to also hold talks on various regional and global issues.

It is believed Obama will use the APEC platform to promote open trade and investment, back economic recovery and sustainable development, and address the major challenges facing the region as well as the world.
In an exclusive interview with Kamna Arora of Zeenews.com, Dr Pankaj Kumar Jha, an expert on APEC, discusses Obama’s upcoming trip to Singapore and the significance of regional institutions for the US.

Dr Pankaj Kumar Jha is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Kamna: What is the significance of US President Barack Obama’s presence in the 17th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Singapore?

Jha: It would be nearly two decades since the APEC was established and it would be a prudent moment for Obama to list out its priorities with regard to the region as a whole. It would also serve as an event where people would be monitoring whether the US hijacks the APEC agenda as it had done in 2002, by including counter-terrorism as a discussion issue. Obama’s visit would be seen in the context of the non-proliferation issue, climate change, human rights and multifaceted engagement with the recalcitrant Myanmar regime.
Kamna: How important are ASEAN and APEC for the US?

Jha: Within ASEAN, there has been a slight inclination towards China due to the economic growth even during the economic recession. Also, China is a rising power while the US is the insurance against Chinese revisionism. During (US Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton`s visit to Thailand for the ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) summit, she stated, “The US is back in Southeast Asia”. So the US sees that ASEAN needs to be reassured with regard to Washington’s commitment to the region. APEC is important because it has created an economic multilateral organisation to sort out trade, investment and tariff issues within the larger geo-political landscape. It has also acted as a vehicle of endorsing the US’ influence in the region.

Kamna: Are there chances of rare talks between Obama and Myanmar’s military rulers?

Jha: There is growing scepticism on the issue and going by the recent overtures by the US with regard to engaging Myanmar’s junta, there would be a meeting between the two leaderships, but the problem is Obama administration’s high moral ground on the issue of human rights and protests against illegal detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Though the meeting cannot be out rightly rejected but this is sure that it would not happen on the sidelines of this summit. It might happen sometime later when Obama visits Indonesia as the US is keen on coaxing Myanmar to accept some form of `Guided Democracy`, which was prevalent during the Suharto regime (in Jakarta). This meeting, but of course, would be without the media.

Kamna: What should Obama aim to achieve from APEC?
Jha: There are number of doubts which are raised about the role of APEC and its agenda for the future. This meeting would be aimed at projecting APEC as a non-US influence multilateral organisation. Also, Obama would try to deepen and strengthen APEC in the light of US’ allies like Australia and Japan propagating their own forms of multilateral structures. While Japan is promoting its East Asian Community, and Kevin Rudd is keen on establishing an Asia-Pacific Community, which would discuss economic, security and environmental issues. While Japan’s initiative proposes a multilateral structure sans the US, Australian initiative is in favour of inducting the US into larger multilateral initiative.

Kamna: Why are India, Malaysia and Indonesia not included in Barack Obama’s Asia tour?

Jha: Obama’s major purpose of the visit is to reinforce the US’ commitment to multilateral organisations as well as look for points of convergence with the economic powers in Asia including China and Japan.

India, Indonesia and Malaysia are not included because Obama might be visiting these countries later, and more so, the US’ interests as well as the lobbies in all these countries are fairly powerful. Malaysia, which has been witnessing positive reverberations form Najib Tun Rajak in terms of human rights, religious rights and equitable distribution of resources, is a positive sign for the US.

Also, it should be remembered that when Anwar Ibrahim last year sought refuge in Turkish embassy in Malaysia and the US asked for resolution of the issue, it was the Malaysian Foreign Minister who snubbed the US administration. So, in terms of visit -- Indonesia, India and Malaysia -- could be in this order of preference.

First Published: Sunday, November 15, 2009, 09:32

(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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