by Xu Haijing
BALI, Indonesia, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has developed "better than expected" to become a major political forum, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, also a key figure in establishing the regional bloc, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.
APEC has been a major political forum although it was never meant to be one. This has been a surprise for Hawke who had promoted to set up a regional organization to face up to the changing world situation.
It was in 1989, when Hawke was prime minister of Australia, when a meeting of minister-level officials from some countries and regions in Asia-Pacific was held in the Australian capital of Canberra, symbolizing the birth of the regional bloc.
Recalling the process, Hawke said preparations had gone for almost a whole year.
"That meeting in December represented the combination of work that started in January that year when at the end of January I made a speech in Seoul of South Korea, suggesting the establishment of that organization," he said.
"I got very favorable response from the president of South Korea. Then I had my ministers and officials going around the region throughout that year. So by the end of the year, the work had been done and we had agreement for the establishment of the regional bloc."
On the reason why to set up a regional bloc such as APEC, Hawke said the world was changing.
"It's clear that the power distribution was changing and the center of economic gravity was moving towards the Asia-Pacific."
He said it seemed to him appropriate that there should be a regional bloc which would do things to assist and promote trade and investment between countries of the region.
Hawke said that much of APEC's work is not dramatically obvious to the public.
"There are a lot of working committees where officials working on the practicality of facilitating trade and investment... It has been very very useful in stimulating trade and investment to the countries in the region."
He said APEC has of itself become a functioning political forum and he is not worrying about its political function, a "by-product of the pursuing of economic matters," overshadowing its original economic and trade function.
"What has happened is that with the APEC moving fairly soon in its life to have an annual leaders' meeting this did provide opportunities which hasn't before at an annual basis for political leaders of the region to meet. They took advantage of that opportunity."
This kind of annual networking of leaders to meet in the corridor and discuss matters of political importance at the time is very "useful," he said.
Hawke said he is "pleased to see the bloc is operated efficiently and there has been significant progress" despite the fact that the 1994 Bogor Declaration goals are still beyond reach.
At the 1994 meeting in Bogor, Indonesia, APEC leaders agreed to the common goals of free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialized economies and 2020 for developing economies. The Australian government confirmed "despite APEC's overall progress, the lowering of barriers to trade and investment has not been uniformly impressive across all sectors."
For the newly initiated Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, Hawke said there should not be a sense of prioritized rights on securing further liberalized international trading system.
"If there is another track available, good luck with them. I'm all in favor of it," he said.
When establishing the APEC, Hawke insisted that China be part of it. "In establishing APEC, I made absolutely clear that you couldn't sensibly talk about Asia-Pacific economic cooperation without involving China. In the early days of 1989, there were some people who didn't want to have China, there were some people who didn't want the United States. I said to them that would be stupid. You can't possibly talk about Asia-Pacific if it hadn't included China and the United States."
"China has been very very important. Its role...has just increased so dramatically since 1989 when it was only in a decade of economic reform. That reform has gone on and on and in such a right direction. Now it's the second largest economy in the world. You simply can't talk about an organization in the Asia-Pacific without recognizing the importance of China."