By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza | Business World
PRESIDENT-ELECT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand in November, his first international meeting as Philippine president, his office said on Wednesday.
Thai Chargé d’Affaires Thawat Sumitmor personally invited Mr. Marcos to this year’s APEC summit, which will be held from Nov. 18 to 19, it said in a statement. Thailand is heading the regional forum this year.
This is the first time since 2018 that the summit will be held physically after a global coronavirus pandemic forced lockdowns and kept people at home.
The planned summit in Chile in 2019 was canceled due to protests, while the last two editions were held virtually.
This year’s summit will focus on post-pandemic recovery, particularly on the resumption of safe and seamless cross-border travel and the revival of tourism and the service sector. It will also tackle business mobility and investments in health security.
The gathering will also focus on charting ways to advance regional economic integration by leveraging digitalization and innovation “while continuing to support a rule-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organization,” APEC said on its website.
The summit, a regional forum established in the 1980s to forge free trade pacts and other liberal economic policies among Asia-Pacific leaders, is held yearly and attended by representatives from 21 member-countries, including the US and China, which account for more than half of the world’s economic output.
Mr. Marcos earlier said the Philippines under his administration would join a US-backed economic framework for the Indo-Pacific that Washington crafted to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Experts have said it remains to be seen whether Mr. Marcos would pursue closer ties with China since the US has elevated efforts to take its alliance with the Philippines to the next level.
Mr. Marcos is expected to meet with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman this week. He will be joined by outgoing and incoming Philippine officials.
His predecessor, outgoing President Rodrigo R. Duterte, led a foreign policy pivot to China when he took office in 2016.
He has been accused of gambling Philippine territories to appease China, from which he got about P1.2 trillion in investment and loan pledges to boost big-ticket infrastructure projects. Critics said few have materialized.
Hansley A. Juliano, a former political science professor studying at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development in Japan, said China would likely ensure that the Philippines is under its influence to keep Europe and America’s influence over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at bay.
“China is already documented to have links with the Marcos campaign,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “It is likely to solidify its influence and control over our contested territories. Perhaps, it’s also meant to further keep ASEAN under their economic influence away from the US and Europe.”
ASEAN’s liberalization measures influence the development of APEC in several ways, Julius Caesar Parreñas, senior advisor at Daiwa Institute of Research, said in a journal.
“Through its expansion and the unilateral liberalization measures that have followed regional liberalization efforts, ASEAN is helping realize the enlargement of the market where APEC hopes to see freer and more open trade and investment policies,” he said.
“ASEAN can play a more aggressive role in challenging other APEC economies to more quickly knock down remaining barriers to cross-border trade and investment flows.”
The Philippine Senate recently failed to ratify a trade agreement involving Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and the 10 members of ASEAN.
Mr. Marcos, 64, earlier said he would ensure the trade deal, also known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), would not hurt local industries.
The former senator said he wants an assessment of the country’s competitiveness first before pushing for the ratification of the free trade deal.
“Let’s review it to see what will be the effect,” he said in a recent statement. “Let’s study it carefully.”
Aside from the Philippines, only two other countries have not yet ratified the RCEP — Indonesia and Myanmar.
Meanwhile,Mr. Marcos and Vice president-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio joined a virtual gathering on Wednesday to commemorate the Philippines-China friendship day.
“The centuries-old relationship and friendship of the Philippines and China has been and will continue to be of great mutual benefit to our people,” Mr. Marcos said in a taped message.
The incoming president acknowledged China’s “generous efforts” in helping the Philippines during the pandemic. “The cooperative partnership of our nations continues to reach new heights.”