[GLOBAL EYE]Not seeing the forest for the treesThe Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting is harshly criticized as “a feast of empty talks” and “an awkward annual fashion show of traditional garments modeled by head of states.” This is because there is a fuss over its ceremonial function and security while it produces few concrete results.
Even so, the annual meeting cannot be a total waste or a useless formality. Whatever their performance may be, the summit meetings are precious in themselves. Furthermore, the fact that the 2005 summit meeting is being held in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, has particular significance in that it shows that our country’s international status has risen greatly. Nevertheless, some groups boisterously ask, “For whom is the feast held?” Other groups prepared “classes to learn about APEC correctly” and even organized an anti-APEC movement called “National Action Against APEC.”
In fact, “APEC summit bashing” arose from performances that fell short of expectations, but the main reason lies in a misunderstanding of the APEC meeting’s function and role. The APEC meeting is a forum at most. It has no voting rights nor does it have compulsory power. Also, every matter is decided by unanimous approval. The 21 APEC member countries are diverse in their per capita national income, from $40,000 in the United States to $2,000 in Vietnam. They are heterogeneous economically, socially and culturally too. By nature, it is impossible for a country to go its own way or combine all member countries to be used as a tool.
At a glance, the terms “open” and “regionalism”― referring to the open regionalism APEC advocates ― seem to contradict each other. But the true significance of open regionalism lies in the fact that it is a transitional expedient to proceed toward international trade liberation. Its purport is to realize freedom first among countries where trade liberation is relatively easy and then to extend it gradually. A free trade bloc seems to be based on “regionalism” but it is “open” regionalism in the sense that it leads to including other countries or regions, step by step. Although the APEC meetings started from regionalism in East Asia, the nature of a regional bloc became blurred as the United States, Canada, Mexico and Chile joined in large numbers from across the Pacific Ocean.
The criticism that the APEC summit is the vanguard of globalization is also unreasonable. The dichotomy of globalization and anti-globalization has no meaning any longer. Whether we want it or not, globalization is already a substantial part of our reality. Not only in the areas of economy and trade, but also in the problems of poverty, inequality, racial discrimination, terrorism, energy shortages, and even disasters and diseases, globalization has rapidly progressed. Whenever or wherever the head of states of the APEC member countries meet, their sharing of a vision for these global issues and providing momentum to the solution of those issues will benefit all mankind. The APEC meeting is a convenient place in that the summit meeting can be a turning point for healing any rift in bilateral relations.
The argument that trade liberation deepens poverty and inequality by advocating the interests of superpowers and foreign capital is an unverified hypothesis. Statistics during the past two decades show that trade has improved poverty and inequality. APEC has merely concentrated its effort on improving the environment for trade transactions by securing transparency and preventing corruption. It has not forced trade liberation nor has it the power to do so. Its code of practice is the “concerted unilateralism” that each country should act according to its own situation and within the framework of harmony between countries.
If our country makes a living from trade and takes pride in its democracy and open capitalism at the highest level in East Asia, South Korea, as the host country, should take a new initiative to activate trade and investment. Despite this, President Roh talked about “world-wide inequality arising from the globalization process” and “the tendency of the poor being excluded from the market in a better environment to do business”: It is pathetic to watch our reality, in which the president takes the lead in sticking with the logic of trees he sees rather than that of the forest he fails to notice.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Byun Sang-keun