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APEC 2017 imprints - looking back after one year
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Illustration photo. Source: VNA

APEC 2017 imprints

Year 2017 was really a year of turbulence and turmoil, a year when worries, disturbances, insecurity spread throughout the globe. In the grey picture of the world and the Asia-Pacific region, there were big challenges to the success of an international summit with the participation of many big economies, which especially required to gather all members and gain consensus and unanimity. In April 2017, the G20 Summit in Germany was unsuccessful, followed by negative signals on all multilateral forums, and many obstacles in regional connectivity. However, it was at this difficult and challenging time not only to APEC but also the regional connectivity, amid the trade liberalization trends around the world, Vietnam showed its stuff, persistence, and creative spirit, determination and responsibility to ensure the success of APEC 2017. The remarkable imprints of APEC 2017 have had a positive impact on the situation, and trends in the world, regions and APEC itself. Especially, Vietnam’s efforts throughout the APEC year, with the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week as the peak, enhanced the role and international position of our country, strengthened and deepened the relations between Vietnam and other APEC economies, connecting Vietnamese with APEC businesses, and promoting the image of the country and its development potential.

Entering 2018, the situation in the world and the region became more complicated, with more difficulties than advantages. Some trends from the previous year, such as trade protectionism, populism and anti-globalization continued to grow, even more strongly. Noticeable was the adjustment of policy by major countries, especially the rising tension between the US and China spread from trade to security. The US administration of President Donald Trump continued to implement the policy of "America first," pressing for renegotiation of free trade agreements, and reforming the World Trade Organization ( WTO). Meanwhile, China made a policy shift focusing on boosting domestic demands, quality of growth and high technology (Made in China 2025). In the face of such fluctuations, the world economic growth decreased in 2018. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the October 2016 Report forecast the world economic growth rate at 3.7% in 2018-2019, 0.2% lower than the forecast in April 2016. Meanwhile, the Fourth Science and Technology Revolution (Industrial Revolution 4.0) has been developing strongly, promoting innovation, improving labor productivity (forecast to increase by 30% in 2025).

Looking back after one year, despite continuing complicated and challenging developments, APEC 2017 imprints have continued spreading positive effects to many aspects in different angles, in both national and international arena. APEC 2017 was also the foundation for Vietnam to bring into play its position and role in post-2017 period, and the "soft power" of the country in 2018.

For APEC, the most important post-2017 outcome is that APEC continues its economic cooperation and connection impetus, brings into play its role as the leading economic connection mechanism of the region, keeps its core value of trade and investment liberalization, and supports multilateral trade. The contents concluded during the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in Da Nang created an important foundation for APEC cooperation in the new period. The APEC Economic Leaders’ Week passed eight major documents, especially the Da Nang Declaration and the Joint Statement of the APEC Ministerial Meeting. In particular, the Da Nang Declaration drafted under the lead of Vietnam was evaluated by its members as concise, succinct, strategic, and with strong language supporting multilateral trading system and commitment to fight against protectionism, which the earlier G20 Conference could not reach. At Vietnam's initiative and proposal, for the first time APEC agreed to promote economic, financial, social inclusion and innovative startups. These are correct and right issues for all APEC members in the current context.

Toward the future

In 2018, APEC meetings at all levels and areas still upheld the spirit attained in Vietnam, focusing on accelerating the accomplishments of the Bogor Goals on trade and investment liberalization, support for the multilateral trading system, commitment to anti-protectionism, maintenance of peace, and stability, deeper regional economic integration, sustainable development, and promotion of new generation free trade agreements (FTAs). Vietnam proactively coordinated with the APEC 2018 host country Papua New Guinea and other members, making active contributions to many major issues, such as accomplishing the Bogor Goals, accelerating the implementation of the APEC Services Competitiveness Roadmap (ASCR), completing the mid-term review of the Renewed APEC Agenda for Structural Reform (RAASR) and finalizing the RAASR Individual Action Plan (IAP) for 2018. In particular, Vietnam and other member economies accelerated the implementation of important outcomes of the APEC Year 2017, such as inclusive development, capacity building for microenterprises (MSMEs) and startups, cross-border e-commerce, food security and climate change, rural and urban development, remote area and sub-regional connectivity and women economic empowerment.

Notably, a prominent imprint in Da Nang is that APEC members agreed to build an action-oriented strategic vision, so as to work towards an APEC for people and businesses, adaptable to challenges, help build an Asia-Pacific community of peace, stability, dynamism, inter-connectivity and prosperity; uphold Asia-Pacific partnerships on the basis of mutual trust, respect and benefit and inclusion. With the strategic vision, APEC leaders also set major plans for APEC cooperation until 2020 and beyond. Especially, APEC members agreed with Vietnam's initiative on APEC towards 2020 and future, including a proposal to establish the APEC Vision Group (AVG) to support leaders developing the vision. Subsequently, Vietnam was nominated by APEC members to the position of Vice Chair of AVG.

In 2018, as a Vice Chair of AVG, Vietnam actively participated and contributed to developing the program, contents and documents and co-chaired the AVG 2 meeting. In developing APEC post 2020 vision , Vietnam proposed contents of common concerns of APEC, ASEAN and members of developing countries, such as economic development cooperation on capacity building, connectivity; water security, retraining and skill training to adapt to digital technology, improving the competitiveness of small- and medium-sized enterprises and startups, issues of population aging and rural and urban development, pioneering role of APEC in the regional and the world. As a Vice chair of AVG, Vietnam continued to promote its dynamic, guiding and responsible roles as demonstrated in the 2017 APEC year.

For the world and the region, the achievements of APEC 2017 created a positive impact on the world economy, creating a basis for continued international economic integration. The success of APEC 2017 brought about optimism for global trade as well as world economic growth. Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) C. Lagarde’s presentation at the 2017 APEC showed the global economic recovery had been better than expected. (1) Although in 2018, the world economy was affected by the US-China trade war, but indexes still remained positive. More importantly, APEC 2017 achievements concerning promoting multilateral trade contributed significantly to efforts to maintain the trend of economic integration in 2018 in face of the great pressure from protection policy of big economies. Given difficulties in multilateral trade, APEC 2017's determination to further implement the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area Action Program (FTAAP) helped members continue striving to complete the first draft of the FTAAP Progress Report and basically agree to submit this report to leaders. With tenacious efforts of Vietnam at APEC 2017, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) made great strides in 2018 with the ratification of 7 member countries and came into effect at the end of 2018. The early implementation of CPTPP helps strengthen cooperation and connectivity, maintaining the core values of APEC cooperation to promote free and open trade and investment, and support for the multilateral trading system. In that sense of optimism, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) also made important progress and was expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

While Southeast Asia was facing many opportunities and challenges, through APEC 2017, Vietnam helped heighten the central role of ASEAN throughout 2017 and 2018. At the initiative of Vietnam in APEC 2017, the APEC leaders convened the first-ever dialogue with all 10 ASEAN members, aiming to enhance coordination in promoting regional growth and economic connectivity. ASEAN countries held that the success in Da Nang facilitated the ASEAN Summit organized immediately afterwards in Manila (the Philippines) - a very important Summit for ASEAN when the Association celebrated its 50th anniversary, and created momentum for ASEAN Year 2018. In many challenging and difficult times of 2018, we continued upholding Da Nang spirit, rallied ASEAN members to strengthen solidarity, demonstrated the core role to bring into play APEC values and consensus. The most obvious evidence was the successful organization of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN (WEF - ASEAN) in September 2016 imbued with the spirit of ASEAN Community.

Enhancing Vietnam's position

In APEC 2017, Vietnam skillfully combined multilateral and bilateral foreign relations, in which multilateral activities truly laid the foundation for a series of important bilateral activities. On the occasion of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in 2017, Chinese Party General Secretary and President, US President and Chilean President paid state visits to Việt Nam. Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an official visit. These were historic trips to Vietnam during which strategic agreements were reached, opening new opportunities for promoting Vietnam's cooperation with partners. In particular, it was the first time a General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party visited Vietnam right after the Chinese Communist Party Congress and also the first time a US President paid a visit to Vietnam during his first year in power. During the week, local leaders also held more than 50 meetings with leaders of partner countries. The stature of APEC 2017 and important bilateral activities created a strong momentum for deepening relations with other countries, elevating bilateral relations in 2018. Notably was progress in the relations with China and the US, the elevation of relation with Australia to strategic partnership in March 2018, the successful exchange of visits with a number of countries, such as Laos , Indonesia, Singapore, Myanmar, Russia, India, Japan, France, Belgium, New Zealand, among others. The success of APEC and bilateral relations created more impetus for Vietnam to stand for a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2020-2021 term.

Hundreds of activities organized throughout 2017 in carefully considered and selected venues advertised the potential, new opportunities for development, economy, trade, investment, services, connectivity, and tourism of Vietnam. APEC CEO Summit attracted a record of over 2,000 businesses, including some 1,300 foreign firms. The Vietnam Business Summit drew about 2,200 businesses, including 850 Vietnamese companies. People and businesses from regional economies learned about the dynamism and reforms of Vietnam’s economy, raising hope of a new influx of investment, trade and tourism into the country. Promotional cultural programs presented Vietnam’s rich tradition, innovation to APEC and the world. During the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week, Vietnam signed a total of 121 cooperation agreements and contracts with partners worth nearly US$20 billion. Concrete numbers and spreading effects contributed to the impetus for encouraging new developments of 2018.

In the face of complex situation in the country and the world, building upon outcomes of APEC 2017, the Vietnamese Government proactively adopted appropriate policies, managed the national economy and achieved many positive results. Notably, GDP growth rate in the first 9 months reached 6.98%, and is expected to exceed the target set by the National Assembly (6.7%); State foreign exchange reserves reached a record of over US$ 60 billion. Total export and import turnover in the first 9 months gained over $352 billion, that of the whole year was estimated at $475 billion, up by 11.7% of which export reached $238 billion, up by 11.2% against the target of 7%-8%; continued trade surplus in the first 9 months reached nearly $5.4 billion. Realized FDI was estimated at $18 billion for the whole year, the highest ever so far. (2) The number of international visitors to Vietnam in October 2018 was 1,205,157, an increase of 17.6% compared to the same period of 2017. For the first 10 months of 2018, the number of tourists stood at 12,821,647, an increase of 22.4% compared to the same period in 2017. (3)

Through the organization of APEC 2017, staff at all levels, sectors, from the central to local levels made much progress in execution, and organization of events and foreign language competencies. Throughout the APEC year, with the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week as the highlight, friends, colleagues, partners from member economies repeatedly expressed admiration and appreciation for the Vietnamese team working for APEC. It can be said that APEC 2017 created a foundation for the formation and development of an integration culture to ensure synchronous, comprehensive innovation and extensive international integration of the country and form a new generation of international friends of Vietnam. This outcomes which were continued to be promoted in 2018, are attributable to not only to successful multilateral events such as WEF-ASEAN, but also to effective bilateral foreign activities in localities, especially the local visits of leaders of the countries during their official visits to Vietnam. It can be affirmed that the contingent of cadres of Vietnam have improved their expertise, confidence and professional standards in the process of international integration.

Reviewing the imprints of the region, the world, and Vietnam, we can see that the biggest imprint is the stature of an innovative, creative and responsible Vietnam. In the year of 2018 full of challenges, the confidence and stature gained from APEC 2017 helped Vietnam affirm its position in the international arena, maintain its orientation amid unprecedented complicated changes in the world and regions. In bilateral relations, Vietnam continues to maintain the momentum, deepen and stabilize relations with major powers and centers of the world. In multilateral level, Vietnam continues to show its role as a responsible member, capable of leading some important issues of different connectivity levels from the sub-region (a series of high-level conferences on Mekong sub-region) to Southeast Asia (ASEAN), Asia - Pacific (APEC), and inter-regional (ASEM). Given that stature, Vietnam is invited to continue attending the Expanded G7 Summit in Canada.

The success of APEC 2017 and its imprints show thought-provoking lessons. In the APEC Year 2017, success in handling the huge differences among members, standing firm in times of crisis, even near breaking point proved the stature of Vietnam. The position of the country, Vietnam's "soft power" really helps execute and lead cooperation in APEC. Vice versa, the success of APEC 2017 also contributed to enhance the position and "soft power" of the country. It can be said that the success of APEC 2017 affirms the correctness of the 12th Party Congress’ foreign policy on diversification and multilateralisation of international relations, proactive and active international integration, improvement of multilateral foreign affairs effectiveness, with the highest goals of maintaining a peaceful and stable environment, facilitating national construction and development. Building upon the firm foundation of Vietnam’s multilateral diplomacy with APEC 2017 as its peak, and full awareness of the importance of multilateral diplomacy in the new context, the Party Secretariat issued Directive No. 25-CT/TW, dated 8 August 2018, on promoting and elevating multilateral foreign affairs by 2030.

The success of APEC 2017 and its profound impacts until today are attributable to the strategic decision in 2012 of the Party, State and Government on the hosting the APEC Year 2017. It was prompted by the position and prestige of the country after more than 30 years of renovation and extensive international integration, the trust and affection of APEC members for Vietnam. It is also thank to the acumen and wisdom of Vietnam's foreign relations, under the close leadership of the Politburo and high-ranking leaders, which have helped us make comprehensive and systematic approaches, identify correct issues and right time, flexibly handle arising situations. At the most challenging times, we showed resilience, persistency, collaborating with partners to find the right direction. We succeeded thanks to professionalism from the early preparation stage with the setting up of agencies in charge of activities composing ministries, branches, sectors, localities since December 2014. And above all, success is certain because the Party's correct guideline is wholeheartedly supported by the people. Support of domestic businesses to the Government’s organization of the APEC Year 2017 was nearly 5 times higher than the APEC 2006. This support was also manifested in the efforts of craftsmen producing gifts for international participants, and people of Da Nang and Hoi An who came all out to clean up the cities after the storm No. 12 with the desire to present beautiful and hospitable Danang, and Hoi An cities to guests. They welcomed delegates with radiant smiles despite heavy losses caused by the storm. It was an invaluable support of the people, a beautiful symbol of the match between "the Party’s will and the People’s heart.” This is really an invaluable lesson from APEC 2017 for the country to continue advancing forward in the coming years, firmly overcome challenges of the times, confidently assume the role of the ASEAN Chair in 2020 and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in the 2020-2021 term.

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(1) https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/11/12/najib-apec-leaders-summit-ends-in-optimistic-note/
(2) Government Report at the 6th session, National Assembly, 14th Legislature
(3) http://vietnamtourism.gov.vn/index.php/cat/12

This article was published in the Communist Review, No. 913 (December 12-2018)

Le Hai Binh, PhDDeputy Director of Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam