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Editorial: Time to rebuild foundation for int’l stability as multilateralism is shaken

  • November 16, 2019
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

A summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which had been scheduled to kick off this weekend in Chile, has been canceled. This is the first time that an APEC summit has been called off since the meetings became a regular event.


The Chilean government explained that it became difficult to ensure safety after a subway fare hike in the country sparked anti-government demonstrations.


An APEC summit provides a venue where the leaders of 21 countries and regions — including the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asian countries, Central and South American nations — can frankly exchange opinions once a year. The cancelation of such an important meeting is an enormous loss.


Multilateralism functions to coordinate the political and economic interests of numerous countries that differ in size, in an attempt to ensure stability and prosperity in the regions concerned. It is worrisome to think that the significance of this concept could be increasingly discounted.


The source of such trends is U.S. President Donald Trump. He not only pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact, the Paris Agreement on climate change and a nuclear deal with Iran, but skipped the East Asia Summit for three years running while emphasizing his “America First” policy at the U.N. General Assembly this fall. It is only natural that many countries were disappointed at Trump’s moves.


Multilateral frameworks are based on the principle that all participating countries share interests by complementing each other, leading to coexistence and co-prosperity.


In such frameworks, major powers can gain markets and smaller countries can expect development assistance. If major powers hold back from unilateral moves, this provides the basis for security for smaller countries. All participants benefit greatly from such frameworks.


Trump is apparently reluctant to be bound by such arrangements. However, if Washington makes light of multilateral cooperation and acts in a selfish way, it would intensify conflicts among countries and lead to destabilization.


Major powers such as Russia, which has annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and China, which is making the South China Sea a military hub, tend to prioritize their own interests over multilateral cooperation. The United Nations has failed to play a sufficient role in the world as major powers pursue self-serving policies.


Japan developed through the benefits of free trade. Multilateral frameworks provide the foundations for free trade. Any weakening of these structures will damage Japan’s national interests. Therefore, Japan should lead efforts to rebuild multilateral cooperation.


It is essential to cooperate with Australia and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan needs to urge the United States, which is allied to both Japan and Australia, to strengthen its involvement in regional cooperation.


Japan should also join hands with Britain, France, Germany and other countries in warning China and Russia against pursuing expansionism. Tokyo must make persistent diplomatic efforts to prevent international cooperation from being shaken further.

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