Today the 14th summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum has opened in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is building its economic prowess on the theme of one community, consistently since it was founded in 1989. Its foundation coincided with the last days of the Cold War.
It has come a long way. It has achieved much, and its challenges, too, have multiplied over the years and with the changing times.
Terrorism offers a great threat to the "one community" swan song of this economic cooperation group of 21 nation states. In this modern-day-world, everything has been held hostage to fear of terrorism.
There is a need to lift that fear once and for all. Unless that fear is tackled in effective manner, the basic goals and visions would not be achieved in the fullest strength. That challenge is there.
APEC’s fight against terrorism is important. This represents a vibrant block of the growing economy and it cannot shy away from its role in fight against terrorism.
Terrorists have had field day in the nation states of the region, particularly Indonesia.
The United States is grappling with terrorism threats day in and day out and still far away from being a victor in the fight against terrorism.
All the goals that APEC has come to identify itself with complete economic liberalization, are good. The APEC has followed a steady course. It has overcome the challenges posed by the natural disasters, and marched ahead. Its resilience has paid off.
It also has a challenge to meet its energy requirements to keep its economic engines moving toward the goals that it has set for itself. But terrorism is a great threat that cannot be overlooked in any manner.
It will have to pool its resources, much in the same fashion, as it envisioned economic cooperation 17 years ago, to keep the spooks of terrorism off its economic progress. For its economic progress is important to the world- where inter-dependence is the definition of progress. Days of isolation are over.
This twenty-one nation economic cooperation group understood the merits of marching with times in 1980s. That the economies could not be held hostage to the baggage of the past.
The cold war mindset of closed minds and political stand-offs, deepening suspicions had to be replaced with a new vision of progress and prosperity by walking together and dismantling the trade barriers and opening economies.
Asia-Pacific region nations had wider goals in sight. The economic cooperation arising out of the ground reality of the interdependent economies had to embrace the whole world in it.
The APEC despite occasional hiccups has progressed and even the basket cases of the 1970s today are equal partners in the development. Vietnam is a shinning example of that. It is economy is growing .
There can be no argument with President George Bush of the United States, when he stated while delivering a speech at Singapore University that the region has progressed because of the APEC in the light of the vision statement at Bogur, Indonesia in 1994. He also pointed out to lessons that the APEC’s march with times and needs has dellivered since it came into being in 1989.
Bush said, "The remarkable economic growth that this region has achieved points to a clear lesson: The expansion of trade is the most certain path to lasting prosperity."
One of the most important points in the vision statement of APEC was a pledge to approach the 21st century with a commitment to work on the basis of equal partnership. The size and the population of the countries were not taken into account. What was taken into consideration that how to learn and perfect the art of treating nations as equals. That is a clear path to progress.
The 1993 vision statement of APEC read, "As we approach the twenty-first century, APEC needs to reinforce economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region on the basis on equal partnership, shared responsibility, mutual respect, common interest, and common benefit, with the objective of APEC leading the way in: strengthening the open multilateral trading system; enhancing trade and investment liberalization in the Asia-Pacific; and intensifying Asia-Pacific development cooperation.”
APEC member economies - as the nations are described in the group - have relentlessly pursued their original agenda. That pursuit has reflected continuity of thought and action.
The inevitable result is that there is a trust. The distrust causes confusion. Doubts have not been allowed to cloud the progress and the mutual relationship of equality. That was manifested amply in the theme of 13th APEC Economic Leaders meeting in Busan, Korea: "Towards One Community: Meet the Challenge, Make the Change."
The objective: To advance our common vision of achieving stability, security and prosperity for our peoples.
There was a recall of the “ importance of the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific.” There was a dedication to the original pledge of ensuring “a transparent and secure business environment in this region in order to lay a stepping stone towards our vision.”
The member economies also confronted the challenges and pledged to extend their “ utmost efforts to bridge the various gaps and differences existing in the region.
“As a result, APEC, as the single forum encompassing the Asia-Pacific region, has not only kept its past pledges but also has succeeded in presenting the future direction that APEC should be heading towards,” its 2005 declaration noted.
In 2006, the economic leaders summit has been based on the theme: ““Towards One Community: Creating New Opportunities for Shared Development”. Time and again the APEC has reinforced the theme of one community. It is looking at unity in diversity.
This feeling has facilitated progress of the region despite huge natural disasters of unprecedented magnitude. The December 26, 2004 tsunami that changed the description of the natural disasters for the world.
This was counted as the worst ever natural disaster where high rising sea waves swallowed tens of thousands and left millions others homeless and helpless.
Indonesia and Thailand were the worst affected nations. But still the sense of resilience has prevailed and the region has not allowed its progress to be hindered by the world’s worst natural disaster in the human memory.
This one community feeling has kept the things going in the Asia-Pacific region. The world has come to admire that. The world is also aware that the region’s energy needs are growing.
Growing economies need energy. Without energy, there is a danger of the growth getting stunted. Having come so far, none of the member economies would like to see themselves stuck because of the non-fulfillment of energy needs. They have to find ways. That is a challenge President Bush has got an answer: “Harness the power of technology. Together, we must unleash the same spirit of innovation and enterprise that sparked the Asian economic revolution to spark a new revolution in new energy technologies.”
The Asia-Pacific region nations are also having another major problem, like rest of the world: terrorism. It has been a target of the terrorist groups. Terrorists have struck hard in October 2002 in Bali, Indonesia. The most populous Muslim nation has also experienced deadly terrorist attacks in its capital, Jakarta.
Terror threat is looming large over the region. The 9/11 took place in the United States, but the region has its own 9/11 haunting it and there is a fear of more such taking place.
That is the threat that APEC will have to deal with, not in the sweeping manner of the United States in launching the so called war on terror, that has only multiplied the deaths within and outside America, but to devise ways that can offer it a hope and promise against the growing threat of terrorism. There too, the mutual cooperation is as much a necessity as shaking hands firmly in economic cooperation.
Terrorists do not recognise boundaries. They want to have a free run. Nations too should have a boundary-less fight against terrorism, for the sake of the region and the world. Economy and terrorism do not go together.
Arun Joshi is chief of Bureau of Hindustan Times in J&K and a scholar of trends of terrorism.