China’s APEC Summit: Showing Off to the World

As the -Pacific Economic Cooperation summit begins in this week, The Economist summarizes the congregation of 21 global leaders as “President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic coming-out party”:

[…] Not since the Olympics in 2008 have so many leaders gathered in the capital, and they will include the heads of the United States, Russia and Japan. It is a defining moment for Mr Xi’s foreign policy. Having established himself at home as China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, he now seems to want to demand a bigger, more dominant and more respected role for China than his predecessors, Deng included, ever dared ask for.

Respect begins by putting on a good face to guests. Chinese bullying over disputed maritime claims has done much to raise tensions in the region. But now Mr Xi appears to be lowering them. In particular, China’s relations with Japan have been abysmal. The government has treated Japan’s prime minister, , with both venom and pettiness, implying he is a closet militarist. The relationship had sunk to such a low that it will count as notable progress if Mr Xi shakes Mr Abe’s hand—even if he does little more—at the summit.

On November 11th and 12th, Mr Xi will host a state visit in Beijing for . It is the second summit with the American president, following one at Sunnylands in California in 2013. It will be a good show, with a scenic walk and all that. But the substance appears less clear. At the time of Sunnylands, there was much Chinese talk of a “new type of great-power relationship” with America. Yet since it implies a diminished role for America, at least in Asia, Mr Obama does not seem inclined to go along. The two men appear likely to co-operate in a few areas, including climate change, trade and investment. They will agree to a bit more communication over respective military movements in and over the seas near China. But hopes that cordiality at Sunnylands might lead the relationship to blossom may come to little. […] [Source]

In regards to Japan, a country with whom China’s historically tense relationship has been especially fraught since the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute flared two years ago, there have been recent signs that Xi could be open to repairing relations, as Bloomberg Businessweek’s Bruce Einhorn shows by surveying recent state media commentary:

[…T]here are signs that China is interested in turning down the volume on its anti-Abe diatribes. Consider the commentary published in, of all places, the Global Times, the People’s Daily-affiliated tabloid known for its nationalism. It’s not reasonable for Chinese to get too worried about the revival of a militaristic Japan, explained Wang Zhanyang, a professor at the Central Institute of Socialism. “Avoid suffering from imaginary fears,” Wang advised:

“With a democratic system, Japan’s politics, and defense are mainly decided by its economy, middle-class society and culture. Japanese leaders cannot act independently of these. As all these decisive factors are mostly pacifist, Japan is likely to stay on the path of peace. The international situation has to be viewed appropriately. We need to realize that rationally China doesn’t face the risk of invasion and civilization is moving toward peace. Only with such understanding and confidence can we avoid overreaction, and in particular a deviation from China’s focus on economic development.”

Sure, it’s possible to dismiss the Global Times commentary as just part of China’s attempt to be a good host for the leaders, but there are other signs of progress in Sino-Japanese ties. Last week, Vice President Li Yuanchao met with a delegation led by Keiji Yamada, governor of Kyoto Prefecture and president of Japan’s National Governors’ Association. China’s defense ministry also said the two sides were talking about resuming cooperation on maritime affairs in the East China Sea, Xinhua reported. […] [Source]

As for the troubled relationship between Washington and Beijing, we can only wait to see what progress is made in President Xi’s meetings with President Obama. In the meantime, ChinaFile has asked four expert commentators for their opinions on what how the two leaders should carry themselves to ensure maximum results. Australia National University’s Professor of Strategic Studies Center’s Hugh White thinks that Barack Obama should carefully compare his aims with those of his counterpart, and consider the role of compromise:

Before President Obama meets President Xi next week he should ask himself two simple questions. What is his aim in developing America’s relations with China? And what is Xi’s aim? Until now Obama’s answers to these questions have been clear. His aim has been to preserve the status quo of U.S. leadership in Asia. And he has assumed that Xi will accept this.

But Xi does not accept it. Indeed U.S.-China relations have deteriorated sharply over the past few years precisely because Beijing has a very different vision of the two countries’ future relationship and their respective roles in Asia. As Xi so often says, he wants a ‘new model of great power relations,’ which means he no longer accepts the old model represented by the status quo. He wants a new order in which China plays at least an equal leadership role with America, and perhaps more.

[…] So now, as he prepares to meet Xi again, Obama has to consider whether to change tack. Should he start taking China’s challenge to U.S. leadership in Asia seriously? And if so, does it make sense for him to rethink America’s aims? If sticking to his present aim of preserving the status quo will only lead to escalating rivalry with an increasingly formidable adversary, some change of approach might be worth considering. That needn’t mean conceding all of China’s demands, but it would mean being willing to explore what a ‘new model’ of relations might look like. […] [Source]

Click through to read input from the other participants in this ChinaFile conversation, China Daily chief Washington correspondent Chen Weihua, senior Chinese diplomat Wu Jianmin, and Yale Law School’s China Center Senior Fellow Graham Webster.

In effort to spruce up and lock down for the summit, Beijing has gone to lengths not seen since the 2008 Summer Olympics. In addition to increased security in the capital, anti-smog measures have been enacted aimed at cutting air pollution 40%. The Guardian’s Jonathan Kaiman reports on how the city hopes to achieve that goal:

To Beijing’s 21 million residents, the city’s is a health hazard. To the city’s leaders, it’s an embarrassment. So as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (Apec) begins this week in the city, authorities have been scrambling to keep the air clean, temporarily restricting the operation of cars, factories, construction sites — and even crematoriums.

[…] According to state media, authorities have shut factories within 125 miles (200km) of the city centre, and ordered all construction work to stop during the summit. Cars with even and odd numbered licence plates will be allowed on the road only on alternate days. Schools and government offices have been granted a six-day holiday during the event, but will have to make up the time on weekends. Residents will be granted free admission to tourist attractions in neighbouring Hebei province, a clear attempt to lure them out of town.

According to the Beijing News, the well-known Babaoshan crematorium will ban mourners from incinerating funeral clothes – a common sacrificial offering meant to keep the dead clothed in the afterlife – during the first two weeks of November. “Please forgive any inconvenience,” the crematorium’s management wrote on a large blue and white sign. […] [Source]

Despite these efforts, the Beijing skies may still be smoggy for part of the weeklong summit, as Bloomberg reports:

From Nov. 8-11, the city and surrounding areas will experience slight to moderate because of unfavorable conditions for pollutants to disperse, Wang Zhihua, a spokesman for the China Meteorological Administration said in comments posted on the agency’s website.

[…] “Due to the relatively long duration, an accumulative effect of pollutants is likely to form, and risks for moderately polluted weather to appear around the 10th are high,” Wang was quoted as saying in the transcript of a press conference held yesterday and posted on the agency’s website.

[…] Implementing such [pollution control] measures can be challenging given the wide scope of restrictions the government put in place. Spot checks conducted this week by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in Heibe province near Beijing found a charcoal plant puffing out black streaks of smoke at night, coal-fired boilers running at several paper factories as well as straws burning in the fields, according to the Beijing Times, a city newspaper. [Source]

More goes in to preparing for a summit than scrubbing skies. In a report for the Globe and Mail, Nathan Vanderklippe reports on the angry displaced residents of the arcadian villages razed to create a venue fit for foreign dignitaries:

Before they were razed to make way for presidents and prime ministers, the three villages sat perched on the shores of Yanqi Lake, a short drive northeast of Beijing. Nearby orchards grew apples, pears, peaches, walnuts and apricots. The surrounding mountains flushed green in summer, and the lake waters swam with fish.

[…] The villages were home to about 1,800 people. Many of them lived in sprawling courtyard houses with dozens of rooms, and had ancestral ties to the places dating back centuries. Then, four years ago, the residents learned their lives were about to change dramatically. Their lands, they were told, had been chosen for redevelopment – in fact for destruction – to make way for the new luxury resort that will host leaders of Pacific Rim countries, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit next week.

[…] The story of the villages is a reminder of how rapidly even the landscape changes in China, as the country races for economic glory, and the upheaval it causes to its people. For the villagers, the construction of the APEC site has revealed the avarice, corruption and psychological dislocation that have been the near-constant companions of China’s economic expansion and reforms.

[…] The villagers’ anger stems largely from a conviction that they were not paid fair compensation for the land that was gradually taken away. […] [Source]

Government authorities recently directed the media to gloss over negative news and commentary when reporting on the APEC summit.

Also see CCTV America’s primer “5 Things You Need to Know About APEC 2014.”