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What to Expect from the APEC Summit in San Francisco

Representatives gather for the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Week in San Francisco, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Stephen Lam/Pool Photo via AP)
Representatives gather for the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Week in San Francisco, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Stephen Lam/Pool Photo via AP)
What to Expect from the APEC Summit in San Francisco
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The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) holds its latest meeting in San Francisco this week.

Here are some facts about APEC and what can be expected during the leaders’ meeting, or summit, taking place on the Pacific Coast of California:

What is APEC?

Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is an organization that aims to increase trade, investment, and economic development among nations around the Pacific Ocean.

APEC started with 12 members in 1989. It has since grown to 21, including China, Russia, Japan, the United States and Australia. The organization says on its website that member economies make up nearly 40 percent of the world’s population. In addition, APEC accounts for about half of worldwide trade.

The yearly meeting brings together heads of nations, as well as other top economic and diplomatic leaders.

U.S. officials have said the goal of this year's summit is to try to make APEC economies more resilient. They said there is a big need for resiliency because of climate change and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The main event

The main event at this year’s gathering is expected to be a planned meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders have not spoken in person since meeting last November at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. A lot has happened since then to raise tensions between the two nations.

The Biden administration ordered the downing of a Chinese spy balloon that passed over U.S. territory earlier this year. The Chinese government hacked the emails of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The U.S. government restricted the export of computer chips to China and has pushed to provide development aid to many nations to balance China's influence.

Disagreements between the U.S. and China have also been affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s increasing military activity in the Taiwan Strait.

Representatives from the U.S. and China have been meeting more often lately to improve relations. However, experts predict even the meeting between Biden and Xi at APEC is unlikely to change the direction of U.S.-China relations.

How effective is APEC?

APEC’s activities center on trade and economic issues only. The group does not consider military matters and was not created by a world-changing event like a war.

The organization technically has member “economies” rather than countries. This permits room for membership by both China-ruled Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan.

One of APEC's biggest strengths is its ability to get countries to work together on big projects and to ease business relations without requiring specific agreements. Economists note that traditionally, APEC has helped to reduce tariffs and other barriers to trade.

But the world’s trading system has changed from when APEC began during a period of increased worldwide cooperation and expansion. U.S. efforts have centered on economic competition with China rather than cooperation.

APEC disputes

The APEC group has experienced tense moments in recent years.

Leaders met virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders did gather in person in Bangkok last year, but Biden did not attend because of a family matter. Instead, he sent Vice President Kamala Harris. That decision was seen by some APEC leaders as an insult.

Also last year, delegates from the U.S. and four other nations walked out to protest Russia's invasion of Ukraine as the Russian representative to the conference began to speak.

In 2019, Chile decided not to hold APEC because of mass protests in the country. Last year, when Thailand held the summit in Bangkok, pro-democracy protesters questioned the legitimacy of the Thai prime minister. This led police to fire at the crowd with rubber bullets that injured several protesters and a reporter.

This year’s meeting is likely to be influenced by the Israel-Hamas war, since the nations involved have strong opinions on both sides of the conflict.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

resilient – adj. able to improve quickly after being hurt or ill

hack – v. to use a computer to illegally get into someone else’s computer system to read the information that is kept there

tariff – n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country

legitimate – adj. permitted by law or official rules