At the first-ever Informal Economic Leaders’ Retreat of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s commitment to cooperate with APEC members to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate global economic recovery, which would inject strong confidence to the APEC members to weather through the storm and shape a better future for the Asia-Pacific community.
APEC in a time of challenges and opportunities
Just as President Xi said, the Asia Pacific region is the major engine for world economic growth. The 21 APEC member economies around the Pacific represent approximately 40 percent of the world’s population and 60 percent of the world’s GDP, which highlights the region’s status in the world. The APEC community is also the most dynamic region in the world. It is home to the most-developed and least-developed economies and a place where the West meets the East. Through vibrant trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges, these diverse economies and cultures are interconnected as a community of shared futures.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the region. Within the APEC community, over 50 million cases of COVID-19 and over one million deaths have been reported, the aggregate GDP contracted by 1.9 percent in 2020, which is the biggest decline since World War II, with 81 million jobs lost.
To make matters worse, the region is witnessing a glaring gap between haves and have-nots. Some countries are quick in vaccinating the population and restarting the economy, while others are scrambling for vaccines, suffering from recurrent surges of infections and lagging behind in economic recovery. Less developed countries are also afflicted with rising poverty, food shortages, environmental degradation, as well as threats of terrorism. Such a grim picture of a “two-track pandemic” warned by World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is making a stark contrast in the region.
Due to the cross-border nature of the pandemic and the inter-dependency among the economies, it is in the common interests and moral duty of APEC members to devise a common solution to better respond to the public health crisis and facilitating a speedy and balanced economic recovery. It is also an opportunity for APEC to forge solidarity among different players and build a stronger organization to better meet future demands.
President Xi reiterated China’s commitment
As an integral member of the APEC community, China has made exceptional contributions to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. China has served as a timely and trustworthy provider of face masks, vaccines and personal protective equipment to the region and the world at large.
In the meeting, President Xi reiterated his pledge to deepen international COVID-19 vaccine cooperation and make the vaccine a global public good. China has already provided 500 million vaccines to over 100 developing countries. China recently reached an agreement with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) to provide Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines through COVAX facilities, which will further boost the quick and equitable distributions of vaccines across the region. President Xi declared that China would provide an additional $3 billion worth of international aid to support developing countries in their fight against the COVID-19 and economic recoveries. China’s prompt and concrete actions have made enormous contributions to improve the accessibility and affordability of the global COVID-19 vaccination campaign.
President Xi also committed to promoting world economic recovery, by pledging to “deepen regional economic integration”, “pursue inclusive and sustainable development” and “seize opportunities from scientific and technological innovation.” As the only major economy which achieved growth in 2020, China has acted as the anchor for the world economy. In the first half of 2021, China’s GDP expanded 12.7 percent year on year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which would provide greater impetus to the regional economic recovery.
In his closing remarks, President Xi quoted the New Zealand idiom “Turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you” as a way to sound the rallying call to the APEC members to step up collective effort to overcome the current challenges and move toward the Putrajaya Vision 2040 for “strong, balanced, secure, sustainable, and inclusive growth.”