Bird Flu, Trade Top APEC Agenda

Thousands of delegates begin high-level discussions in Busan, South Korea, on Monday ahead of the annual two-day leaders' meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. High on their agenda will be expanding trade for the region, but pressing issues such as the threat from bird flu and terrorism also will be covered.

Officials say formulating a regional strategy to confront a potential avian influenza pandemic will be one of the most closely watched items on the voluminous agenda for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Ahead of the initial discussions, the executive director of the APEC secretariat, Choi Seok Young, called on the leaders of the 21 APEC member economies to formulate a unified regional response on bird flu. Ambassador Choi warned that if APEC members do not work together to share information and prepare for a pandemic, there could be dire consequences in terms of human suffering and the region's economy.

Regional worries about terrorism also will feature prominently at APEC's meeting in Busan, South Korea.

It is nuts-and-bolts economic issues, however, that are supposed to be at the core of the discussions when the APEC leaders gather on November 11 and 12. Northeast Asia analyst Balbina Hwang of the Heritage Foundation in Washington says she hopes there will be progress on these issues.

"Intellectual property rights, issues about coordinating regulatory policies, further dialogue on reducing trade barriers; hopefully they'll be able to integrate some of the bilateral, trilateral and other regional, sub-regional free trade agreements that are on around the region," she said.

The agenda for this year's summit includes renewing the group's commitment to what are known as the Bogor Goals. Those goals, set at the 1994 APEC summit in Indonesia, call for free and open trade in goods and investment throughout the region by 2020. The developed APEC economies are to meet that target by 2010.

When APEC was established in 1989, it was meant to eschew politics and focus on facilitating economic growth, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region. The group endeavors to reach commitments that are voluntary rather than obligatory. And by considering the 21 APEC members "economies" rather than "nations," it is able to include such members as Taiwan, which is known to APEC as Chinese Taipei, at the insistence of the mainland government in Beijing.

Ms. Hwang of the Heritage Foundation says the present realities for APEC are different than the parameters erected when the forum was established.

"It was feared at the time that any kind of focus on the politics would ensure its own demise," she said. "Now, of course, the focus on the economics is not nearly enough. And I think that everybody that participates in APEC realizes this, so there really is this dance around the issues trying to get to the core of the matter."

What matters to many are the political discussions, although here in Japan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Akira Chiba says his government wants APEC to keep its focus on economic issues.

"The APEC process has been very careful about keeping a distance from political issues, and this is the entire spirit of what makes it APEC," he said. "There may be some political issues among some economies, but being economies and not countries, in this forum we would like to tackle the issues without going into political issues."

That wish aside, Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will meet privately with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, the host of this year's APEC meeting.

The Japanese delegation arrives at APEC at a time of considerable tension with its neighbors, especially China and South Korea, which have expressed concern about rising nationalism in Japan. Tokyo also has unresolved territorial disputes with both Beijing and Seoul.

But Mr. Chiba at the Japanese foreign ministry says Tokyo is not going to gauge success of the summit based on the number of sidebar meetings.

"The prime minister's schedule is going to be very tight. We're not anticipating a lot of bilaterals taking place," he said.

APEC members also are likely to find themselves discussing North Korea's nuclear weapons program. South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia have been negotiating at length with Pyongyang, trying to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear programs, which represent a string of broken international promises.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs