Singapore – Alphabet soup is on the menu everywhere here at the APEC summit. Acronyms, painful at the best of times, seem to be used continually by leaders, CEOs and politicians gathered in Singapore. Here’s a guide for those trying to follow the action.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, consists of 21 member economies that account for more than half of global gross domestic product – the value of all goods and services a country produces. Members include power players such as the United States, Japan and China and developing nations such as Chile and Indonesia. A key part of the mission: achieving the 'Bogor Goals of “free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific by 2010 for industrialized economies and 2020 for developing economies.”
Once famously described as"four adjectives looking for a noun,” APEC sometimes comes under criticism for being little more than a talking shop. Members have no treaty obligations and all agreements are non-binding. Still any event that puts Barack Obama and Hu Jintao in the same room is going to attract the world’s attention.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN has 10 member states, with a combined GDP of US$1.5 trillion. The group’s mission is to promote economic growth and regional stability. Barack Obama will be the first U.S. president to meet with the group’s leaders, including Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein. The Obama administration has adopted a policy of engaging Myanmar, also known as Burma, in hopes it will push the country toward democratic reforms.
Until a few days ago, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP was little known economic alliance formed between Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei. Now the U.S., Australia, Peru and Vietnam want to join, with the intention of using the TPP as a stepping stone toward the ultimate goal of free trade throughout the APEC region. This may be the first you have heard of TPP, but I doubt it will be the last.
Singapore – The dirty secret of events such as the APEC CEO Summit is that they are usually scripted, bloodless affairs where any "news" is typically of the tightly choreographed variety.
Exxon Mobil’s Tillerson: Can science predict what will happen with climate change?
So it was a welcome relief that the last session, devoted to the theme "The Shape of Things to Come," bucked that trend. The always provocative Kishore Mahbubani, author of "The New Asian Hemisphere," asked the panelists to speculate on an improbable version of the future.
Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and CEO of the Exxon Mobil Corp., talked at length about the harsh realities of creating and deploying new technologies for the world's growing hunger for energy. For his implausible vision of the future, he offered the following.
"Today, climate change issues so dominates energy policy… the implausible future may be climate change effects don't turn out the way we thought they would, that the climate models simply aren’t competent enough to predict the future.
"Perhaps the Earth has naturally occurring forces that bring it back into equilibrium, and the consequences don’t manifest themselves.
"Or alternatively, perhaps, none of the things we do to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions make any difference, that there are other factors in the climate system that are going to force a change to a warming planet regardless of what we do, which means the glaciers are still going to melt, sea levels are still going to rise, weather patterns are still going to shift."
That prompted a strong reaction from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.
"I cannot accept the notion or find it implausible that we as human beings have no control over our destiny and that global warming is a natural phenomenon … or that it will suddenly reverse itself," he said.
"I find it implausible and I think unacceptable that we as human beings should simply do nothing about it or have no ability to control our destiny."
Perhaps Stephen Roach, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, summed up an unlikely future best: "The most improbable scenario that I could ever imagine... is what we've been through over the last year," he said.
"If you told anyone what we were about to go through the past year, they would have told you you're nuts.
"So we have lived through an improbable year and we must learn the lessons of this extraordinarily difficult period so that we never, ever have to go through it again."
BEIJING, China - There's something strange these days over Beijing, something many of us here have not seen for a very long time. As I look up, there's this strange blue-looking color - at first I thought the officials may have been dying the pollution blue, or maybe I had lived here so long that I had forgotten what a sky should looked like.
I've lived in Beijing for a little less than three years, but one of our local office workers made the remark that she had never seen such beautiful, white fluffy clouds, so I knew something had changed. Don't get me wrong, this place is still polluted, but since the Beijing Olympics it seems the number of adversely polluted days is about the same as the number of really good days we had last year, in other words, not a lot.
And it might just be making the people who live here a little happier, as well. In the parks, on the streets, many Beijingers seem to be smiling a little more, perhaps a bit more relaxed.
So how did this happen? The government has been trying to clean up this city for years - building subway lines, converting buses and taxis to natural gas, and stopping cars from driving one day a week (a watered-down continuation of the tough traffic controls in place during the Olympics). Some major polluters, too, have been closed down and relocated - notably Beijing Capital Iron and Steel, the biggest single contributor to the city's air pollution problem. Now that the Olympics are over there's been a massive drop in construction, and so dust particles have been reduced. But also playing its part is the global economic slump; many of the factories which were meant to close temporarily for the Olympics have never re-opened.
An old joke was never check the stock market or government statistics to know the state of China's economy, just look to the sky. When those gray skies are blue, the economists would say, start to worry. Well, the sky has been blue a lot this year, but in a bizarre coincidence, as economic growth here started to head toward 8 percent, we seem to be getting more polluted days. I'll let you know what happens of the GDP numbers hit double digits.
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