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APEC 2018 "Menu": Digital Economy, Countering Protectionism and Geopolitics

© Sputnik / Aleksandr Astafiev / Go to the mediabankAPEC 2018 Summit Day Two
APEC 2018 Summit Day Two - Sputnik International
While APEC’s “unwritten rule” is that the bloc’s high-level meetings are dedicated solely to economy, politics still gets brought up quite often. With the “tug-o-war” between China, the US and Australia in the region, the political undercurrent at the APEC Summit in Port Moresby was clearly visible.

Digital economy, free trade and the rising of economic protectionism topped the agenda both at the APEC summit in Port Moresby and during the Economic Leaders' Week, which preceded the event, as top government officials from the bloc's 21 economies were drafting final documents for the big meeting.

Even though two leaders of global superpowers — Russia's Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump — were not in attendance, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Vice President Mike Pence led the delegations from Moscow and Washington respectively.

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According to local media, Pence chose not to stay in Papua New Guinea for the whole duration of the two-day summit, flying in and out of the country from nearby Australia to attend meetings.

Medvedev's plane touched down at Jacksons Airport in Port Moresby on Saturday. He was greeted by the host country's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, with whom he later had bilateral talks. Russia helped to organise the summit by shipping airport equipment to Papua New Guinea.

READ MORE: APEC Participants Adopt Final Declaration Excluding Some Controversial Issues

Moscow has a lot to share with other APEC member when it comes to digital transformation. Thanks to initiatives passed by Dmitry Medvedev's government, services provided by the state have undergone a massive transformation in recent years, with many of them, such as property registration, tax payments and regulation procedures becoming accessible through online portals. 

Another important issue currently being discussed by the bloc is the formation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) — a long-term goal of the organization that will allow free trade between Pacific Rim economies from China to Chile.

However, with the rise of protectionism and with the increasing risks of "tariff wars" between the bloc's members — the US, China and Canada, adopting initiatives such as the FTAAP may take quite a long time.

READ MORE: APEC Summit Focuses on US-China Trade Row, Globalisation Issues

During the course of the APEC meetings, the "bidding game" for Papua New Guinea's attention between key APEC players in terms of future investments opportunities and potential contracts were clearly in sight. 

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​China built roads and venues for the summit and poured massive amounts of money into Port Moresby's infrastructure, as well as into the logistics of the summit, donating buses to transport the delegates and the media. The US and Australia provided security and medical support, sending troops, military planes and ambulance crews.

But what looked like purely charitable effort on the outside could very well pass as camouflage for a geopolitical "dogfight under the carpet".

China wants to build and maintain political influence in Papua New Guinea, Washington and Canberra wouldn't want to miss their slice of the pie either.

READ MORE: 'APEC Effect': How Hosting of Big Int'l Event May Transform Papua New Guinea

Australia is Papua New Guinea's largest foreign donor, so Canberra decided to step up its efforts in countering Beijing's growing influence.

​While China invested heavily in local businesses and civilian infrastructure, Washington and Canberra made a military move, announcing the creation of a joint military base on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

​Manus Island recently became known as "The Prison Island" thanks to the notorious Australian Regional Processing Centre for refugees and asylum seekers. Human rights activists often criticized Canberra for inappropriate conditions in which the detainees were kept at the facility. The centre was closed down in 2017, but the 400 refugees and asylum seekers who remain in camps on "the Prison Island" wrote an open letter to APEC delegates, calling for help.

​The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation is an intergovernmental forum of 21 Pacific Rim nations. Last year's APEC summit was held in Danang in Vietnam. Papua New Guinea was the first developing country to host the APEC meeting. Because of the lack of accommodation options on shore, in PNG's capital, the organizers moored three Australian cruise ships in Port Moresby's harbour, which, besides housing, were used as venues for the APEC CEO summit.

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