It may look like a costume party, but as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation shindig draws to a close, nobody is having a good time.
TOKYO—Imagine if you will, that this year’s APEC summit was set in the Star Trek Universe and China was the belligerent Klingon Empire; it’s not hard if you try. And things aren’t going so well for the United Federation of Planets.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum, held this year in Beijing, should have been an unchecked testament to the rising power of China’s influence but instead it seems to be going badly. From the matching smocks that all the participants are wearing, widely ridiculed as Star Trek uniforms, to the air pollution in Beijing that’s out of control, not to mention Hong Kong, which is also out of control, this year’s APEC isn’t another Beijing Olympics where China is at the top of its propaganda game.
In yet another sign that China is not maturing as a democracy, the Chinese government blocked access to U.S. websites showing the real measurements of pollution in the area—which are about six times the acceptable levels. The concentration of PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, is at 153 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization (WHO) puts the safe daily level at 25 micrograms.
This year APEC seemed to stand for: Asian People Exasperated with China. President Xi Jinping and his government, which never has had much of a sense of humor, seem to be providing more comedy material to the world than they are comfortable doing.
This year APEC seems to stand for: Asian People Exasperated with China.
The Star Trek meme has taken off on the World Wide Web. If the APEC talks were set in the science fiction world of Gene Rodenberry, China would clearly be the Klingon Empire and the other unloved attendee, Russia’s Vladmir Putin would be the war-like Romulan envoy. President Barack Obama, presumably, would be Mr. Spock, emotionally distant with a cold logic all his own. It could be a great costume party. However, one thing is clear at APEC this year: nobody is having a good time. The events have been punctuated by multiple awkward world leader meeting moments.
Xi did not look like a happy man as hours before the APEC conference began, he awkwardly shook hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It was the first meeting for the two estranged leaders since 2012, after Abe’s decision to visit Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s war dead—and war criminals—are enshrined. This was taken as a sign of Japan’s lack of repentance for the atrocious acts committed during its rule of China in the early 20th century. Yet, after months of backdoor negotiations there was Xi, stone-facedly shaking hands with a smirking Abe. According to Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs sources, before the meeting China demanded that Japan admit a territorial dispute exists over the Senkaku Islands, which it calls Diaoyu. China wasn’t demanding that Japan recognize the island as Chinese territory—it demanded that Japan recognized it as “an issue.” Japan has been like a territorial alcoholic for years previously wouldn’t even admit that there was a problem.
Beijing also demanded that Abe declare he will no longer pay visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Abe didn’t give in to that request, holding to the line that it’s a “personal” thing.
The incredibly vague agreement they reached admits that China thinks there is, indeed, a problem about the territorial rights of Senkaku. And that small concession by Abe inflamed critics in Japan, who called it “a losing strategy.”
Grant Newsham, an expert on Asia Pacific security issues and former U.S. Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Japanese military, sees the meeting as a strategic mistake by Abe: “Is it even worth considering whether China is willing to change its position regarding territorial disputes and its desire to dominate Asia? It’s not. Thus, Japan has just conceded a main point—that a dispute exists and its willing to discuss it—even if the government of Japan claims it said no such thing in its statement. The PRC (China) has therefore gotten something important. And what did Japan get? A grudging handshake and a short meeting. Who looks like the supplicant?”
Koichi Nakano, a professor of Political Science at Sophia University, sees the meeting as a minor victory for Japan’s increasingly unpopular leader, “I think that a meeting was better than no meeting at all, so that’s a plus for Abe. Having said that, he is still on probation as far as the Chinese government is concerned, so it remains to be seen whether a substantial improvement is to be made in future meetings.” Nakano suggests that Abe “still has to play a delicate balancing act for the foreseeable future, and the thorny issues are all left unresolved as yet.”
One political observer summed up the atmospherics: “It looks like two guys drinking lemonade with the sugar left out.”
By contrast, if body language is any indication, Obama and Xi were getting along rather well. Xi welcomed Obama with a smile and a warm handshake. As Russia ramps up the conflict in the Ukraine, Obama appears to be appealing for China’s help to maintain world order. for the rest of the story at the Daily Beast click here
Note: Japan is referred to as Tanuga* IV due to it’s harsh justice system, where you are presumed guilty until proven guilty.