Focus on economy but Ebola, ISIS will feature too: Analysts

Focus on economy but Ebola, ISIS will feature too: Analysts
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 9 November 2014.

The focus may be on China's regional economic integration push, but other global issues, such as the threats posed by the Ebola virus and extremist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), will also feature in talks among Apec leaders, said analysts.

"Apec involves 21 countries, most major powers, and is a rare chance for face-time between so many world leaders, so it has become an important arena for global discussion and action on cross-country crises like Ebola," said Zhejiang Normal University's African Studies director Liu Hongwu.

Besides the leaders' meetings, there will also be bilateral talks on the sidelines, such as those between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his United States counterpart Barack Obama, and between Mr Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It's a good place to restore international momentum on certain issues, but Beijing will be reluctant to let any other topic overshadow its agenda on the free trade agreement for the Asia-Pacific," said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies analyst Hoo Tiang Boon.

While the US is expected to use the opportunity to lobby Apec members' support for its military campaign against ISIS, observers do not expect a repeat of what happened at the Apec meeting in Shanghai in October 2001.

Then, in the shadow of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks, US president George W. Bush scored a major diplomatic victory when he got Apec to issue a statement on counter-terrorism, which included a commitment to stopping the flow of funds to terrorist groups.

It was the first time that Apec dealt explicitly with a non-economic issue.

Analysts say Beijing is likely to consent to including mentions of counter-terrorism in the leaders' final statements this week, as that is one of the few international topics on which the US and China agree.

But Beijing will keep its regional trade initiatives at the forefront of talks and at the centre of the leaders' final statements. This is because China is now better placed to control the agenda and because Apec countries are more concerned with economic issues, the analysts add.

"The situation now is not at all like 13 years ago, after 9/11," said Peking University's School of International Studies analyst Wang Lian.

"Then, the whole world felt intense sympathy for the US. Now, the threat is more complicated and less urgent, and China is also a stronger country which will want to exercise more control as host," he added.

"The truth is that none of these other issues (Ebola and ISIS) has much international momentum because countries in the region as a whole do not place a high level of significance on them," said Renmin University international relations expert Jin Canrong.

"Trade and economic growth, on the other hand, are top priorities for all Apec countries."

This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.
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