By Hector R. R. Villanueva
“(Russia) is a riddle wrapped
in a mystery inside an enigma.”
— Winston Churchill
The arduous and tedious trip to Lima, Peru, for the APEC Leaders’ Summit was worth it for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte after an initial hesitation and vacillation.
The highlight of the APEC for President Digong Duterte was not the gala dinner or the photo ops with other leaders but the opportunity to glad-hand and personally converse with his “idol” Russian President Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB, and his newly found “friend” in China’s President Xi Jinping which made the entire Summit secondary to his purpose.
While the President absented himself from the dala dinner due ostensibly to a migraine attack which can be excruciatingly painful, as well as the obligatory photo ops of the leaders, the APEC will be incomplete.
Having had the opportunity to have a tete-a-tete with Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping made the weekend a stunning success for President Duterte.
The 21-member countries of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is a pleasant and congenial reunion of leaders and newcomers in the Asia-Pacific Rim whose ideals remain vibrant but it has, in fact, been ineffectual in implementation.
The APEC has become a pleasant rest and recreation for leaders to renew friendships and forge new relationships in a convivial setting as the hosting rotates among the member economies.
Since its formation in 1989 as a forum aimed to liberalize trade, reduce tariffs, promote investments among members, and facilitate business and economic cooperation, APEC has had lukewarm success.
Nevertheless, APEC continues to thrive and members look forward to the next meeting replete with business meetings, consultations, and studies although its impact has been cursory and ineffective.
With the election of US President Donald Trump, a conservative Republican, who vowed to bring business and jobs back to the United States by scuttling the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP), the liberal credo of APEC may be subject to review.
However, while America is showing waning interest in APEC, China is ready to invigorate and rekindle enthusiasm in APEC.
Thus, with or without active United States participation, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea are ready to fill in the slack.
Over time, APEC has widened its agenda from trade liberalization to other concerns such as threats from global terrorism, human trafficking, human capital development, food security, and greater cooperation.
In retrospect, with diligent coaching, and in the company of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, President Digong Duterte should take more active interest in APEC and ASEAN to reach out to member economies in the Asia Pacific Region.
You be the judge.