US unilateralism gone mad, HK’s Lee banned from APEC

So US-sanctioned, Hong Kong Chief Executive, John Lee, will not be allowed into the US to attend the forthcoming APEC annual conference. This is US unilateralism gone mad.

We have seen it before, of course, with the US unilaterally refusing admission to national leaders it dislikes who wish to attend UN sessions. But there is a particular irony in this case since the originally Japanese-conceived APEC was supposed to be an anti-China outfit, with the US at the forefront. Some background is needed.

In the 1960’s the Japanese rightwing had a problem. The then strong leftwing was arguing that Japan needed access to the markets and raw materials of the communist Asian nations – China, North Korea and the Soviet Union – if it was to survive.

An anti-communist Japanese economist, Kiyoshi Kojima, said no. He proposed a Pacific Free Trade Area – PAFTA – where Japan could rely on the much more reliable capitalist nations of the Pacific, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But PAFTA had flaws. A free trade area would soon see demands for the dismantling of Japan’s agricultural protectionism.There was also the fact that PAFTA, in turning its back on communist Asia, also had to exclude much of non-communist Asia.

So the indefatigable Kojima (he happened to be my PhD studies supervisor) in 1989 repackaged the idea as APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation). And with Taiwan favoured over China at the start, the anti-communist agenda managed to survive for a while, even if today APEC has finally had to bow to realities, with not just China but Russia also included.

There remained the problem of APEC sponsorship. Tokyo did not want to appear to be too pushy with the APEC concept for fear of arousing anti-Japan suspicions in Asia.

So it turned to Australia to take the lead. Then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, never reluctant to seek global headlines, was easily persuaded to be the front-runner.

Canberra bureaucrats too liked the idea since they could appear to be closely involved with Asia without themselves having to go out and do the hard work needed to build real economic bridges into Asia. The businessmen and academics too lined up to tell us the glorious opportunities we would gain from APEC.

Ironically, they were to get those Asian opportunities…but from the China that Australia was still going out of is way to antagonise, and that APEC had originally been intended to exclude.

This year in addition to Hong Kong’s John Lee another leader will be missing from the APEC meeting, Russia’s Mr Putin. If he enters the USA he faces the risk of being arrested as a war criminal.

He is designated as such by the International Criminal Court of Justice, an organisation which the US in its unilateralism refuses to join, but which it is very happy to embrace if the target is someone it dislikes.