COLLEGE PARK, Md., October 7, 2013 — The 2013 APEC Summit, now underway Indonesia, will be little diminished by the absence of President Obama. Even though the foreign press will inevitably carp about it, the truth is that absolutely nothing important will be accomplished with or without him. Can you think of any similar gathering at which something substantive did result? Neither can this writer.
Nevertheless, there will be words about a black eye or loss of prestige for America. But first of all, that observation is simply untrue. Just see how fast they find a double red carpet to roll out if Air Force One does happen to show up unannounced. Loss of prestige? Not so.
Second of all, as the designated stand-in for President Obama, that’s now Secretary of State Kerry’s problem, and he seems to enjoy that kind of summit glad-handing anyway.
However, if just this once something important actually does require the President’s attention, those attending this year’s APEC will have a chance to get his thoughts at the next summit, which is most correctly dubbed the unwieldy Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting.
Further, if the summit grandees happen to miss him there, there are also the beer blasts of the G3, G7, G8, G20 gatherings at which to corner him. Failing even that, there are the bacchanals that are the conventions of the OECD, the IMF and World Bank, and the World Economic Forum.
So the President misses this one? Weep not for him. Other than not getting his native costume at the photo op, I wouldn’t be too sure he wants to go either.
The real question to ask, however, is this one: Why is Secretary Kerry pinch-hitting for the President? This is after all an Economic leaders’ Meeting, and the Secretary of State isn’t an economic leader even in our own country.
If one thinks Kerry’s being sent to work his magic on political and diplomatic matters, they’re mistaken. This is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Political as opposed to economic discussions require a separate forum called the East Asian Summit, which will held next month in Brunei. Are you keeping this straight?
Nevertheless, the summit poohbahs will continue to blather through the two-day meetings. In truth, they never seem to stop blathering. Just two weeks ago, also in Indonesia, the APEC Finance Ministers’ Meeting (not to be confused with this weekend’s APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting) concluded with a “Joint Statement that expressed their determination to place member economies on a stronger, more sustainable and more balanced growth path.” You don’t say.
We could have issued that same statement from our living rooms, saving those APEC Finance Ministers the trouble of collecting receipts and filing for per diems.
For that matter, one could issue one now on behalf of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders to give reporters a jump on their coverage. Here it is: “We remain committed to the principles of economic cooperation, cross-border investment and trade liberalization, and pledge our mutual support for the achievement of global peace and prosperity.” Not too bad, eh? Took all of sixty seconds.
The business world knows all about client relations. But for goodness’ sake, with all that meeting convening, when does any work get done? But maybe the conclusion is right before us. Although the world economy is definitely not back to full strength, it is also definitely no longer flat on the canvas. If the major economies were able to achieve this by sending these grandees out and away to issue bland and trite declarations, then consider how much better they could do by thinking up even more such events for them to attend.
That said, maybe we do want President Obama to attend meetings like this after all. And Vice President Biden too. And how about Treasury Secretary Jack Lew? The more the merrier.
How about sending them all to the Atlantic-Pacific Business and Economic Forum? Or to the Euro-American Governmental Chamber of Prosperity? Or to the Seven Continents’ Global Prosperity Caucus?
Never mind what they talk about. Just imagine all the economic benefit to the hosting city just from sales at the souvenir concessions and hot dog stands. That benefit alone may make these endeavors worthwhile.
Michael Justin Lee from the faculty of finance and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, teaches, speaks and writes at the intersection of global finance and matters Chinese (with occasional tangents off on one or the other). He is the author of “The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity” (McGraw-Hill, 2012). A veteran Chartered Financial Analyst, he served as Financial Markets Expert-in-Residence in the U.S. Department of Labor. He can be followed at www.michaeljustinlee.com
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