Thailand geared up for APEC summit, but not everyone is excited
Thailand has spruced up parts of Bangkok and built a new convention centre in the middle of the city as it hosts the first in-person meeting of leaders of the APEC economies since COVID-19 hit.
BANGKOK: Thailand is ready to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week, as it enters the final lap of its year-long chairmanship of the regional bloc.
It has spruced up parts of Bangkok, building a new convention centre in the middle of the capital, as it hosts the group’s first in-person summit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Despite its efforts, the economic forum has been overshadowed by other major meetings held in neighbouring countries over the past two weeks – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia and the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Indonesia.
OVERSHADOWED BY ASEAN, G20 SUMMITS
The decision of some leaders, especially US President Joe Biden, to give the forum in Thailand a miss after attending the ASEAN and G20 summits, also raises doubts about what it can achieve.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is also not joining the meeting in Bangkok, despite his country being an APEC member. The war he is waging, however, is likely to be a bone of contention among other members.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has driven up inflation as well as food and energy prices globally, has dominated the agenda of most key meetings.
Previous meetings have resulted in walkouts and a failure to come up with a joint communique.
Political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, said: “So, geopolitics is not going to get APEC very far. Geo-economics is where APEC can make some headway.
“However, I do think that the private sector has a big role in APEC and the private sector, I think, finds APEC still very crucial and relevant, and very useful.”
THAILAND’S MOMENT IN THE GLOBAL SPOTLIGHT
Thailand is refusing to let the other major summits take away its moment in the international spotlight, said observers.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is facing a general election next year, has been urging Thais – especially those opposing him – to not cause any problems during the APEC summit.
“So (we have to ask ourselves) what we need to do for this meeting to be orderly, safe and constructive. Many countries want to invest in ASEAN and Thailand is an important pillar of it,” said the former general, who came to power in a 2014 coup.
“So I remind everyone of the consequences if one creates problems for this meeting. I implore the various groups, let’s look out for one another.”
However, not everyone is heeding the call. Anti-government protesters are holding demonstrations this week to remind the Thai government of its domestic troubles.
Bangkok residents are also unsure what to think of the APEC summit, despite a year-long marketing campaign.
One resident said: “It’s good that Thailand is the host, so that the world can come and see what we have to offer.”
Another resident said: “I can’t really tell what will come out of APEC, because I can’t foresee what the future will bring. But it’s good they’re convening here in Thailand, as we suffered a lot in the past two to three years, so it has got to be better than before.”