Time for an Apec reckoning

Time for an Apec reckoning

After months of preparation and millions of baht spent, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit kicked off on Friday in Bangkok amid increasing tensions at home and abroad.

Given the headache it caused and the burden it put on the government's coffers, the time has come to ask: was it worth it?

From the start, a couple of notable absences threatened to undermine any agreement reached between the 21 members of the trade bloc, which represents over two-thirds of the world's GDP.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend this year's meetings in Bangkok, and neither did his United States counterpart Joe Biden.

Whatever the reason may be, it was convenient for both leaders to skip the summit -- Mr Putin certainly didn't need the extra pressure of a diplomatic confrontation over his invasion of Ukraine, given how badly it is currently going for the Russians, and Mr Biden cannot afford to put a foot wrong in such a forum, as the Republicans are now in control of the House, threatening his reform agenda.

Their absence, however, effectively sealed the fate of the joint communique of the summit way before it was hashed out by the delegates. An early statement released on Friday went along the same lines as the concluding remarks of the G20 summit held in Indonesia just days earlier, which "strongly condemned" the invasion of Ukraine but acknowledged "different views and assessments of the situation".

This year's summit declaration won't be any different. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, keen to save face after making the gathering such a big deal in front of the public, will make sure nothing less than a watered-down statement peppered with the obligatory condemnation of the conflict comes out.

In the city, several anti-government protests broke out despite authorities' best efforts to prevent such demonstrations from taking place.

Calling the show put on to welcome Apec leaders and delegates "warm but hypocritical", the protesters urged the summit's participants to reject the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economy model pushed by the Prayut administration, which they say ultimately is a massive greenwashing effort by the government.

The protesters said the model will only accelerate the monopolisation of the nation's resources by large companies at the expense of the people, under the guise of "sustainable growth".

The uproar wasn't a surprise to anyone, as the sanctimony is out there for everyone to see -- the same government touting a supposedly "green" approach to development to its peers, is also pledging the least ambitious goals towards sustainable growth in the region, relative to its capacity for change. In a recent speech, Gen Prayut affirmed the country's commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 and becoming a net-zero emitter by 2065 in the hopes of pushing the BCG model as a blueprint for post-pandemic economic recovery.

These promises were made last year at COP26 in Glasgow, yet as COP27 concluded in Sharm el-Sheikh this week, no meaningful effort has been made to achieve those goals. In fact, the Climate Action Tracker noted in its latest report that "neither target has been included in any policy document or law as of August 2022". As a result, the advocacy group ranked Thailand's efforts as "critically insufficient" and urged the government to urgently address the ambiguities in its climate strategy.

While regional peers didn't score glowing marks either, the report listed Indonesia and the Philippines -- major archipelagic nations with a huge population burden -- as performing better than the kingdom in the game of climate catch-up. Thailand won't be able to sell the BCG model as a model for sustainable development if its peers see no merit in it.

Gen Prayut should realise that the BCG concept won't be such a tough sell with locals if the reality on the ground matches up with the vows pledged at major gatherings like Apec, G20 and COP27. In fact, such events perhaps would be more of a hit with the public if people can see actual changes which address their concerns.

Instead, they witness the government preaching the same old line on "green" growth while handing the reins to the economy over to huge corporations. Major projects are taking place with inadequate environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and/or public consultation, despite both being criterion for such projects to proceed.

The 3km seawall project in Phetchaburi's Cha-am district -- which the Ministry of Interior spent 300 million baht to build in haste without carrying out an EIA, arguing the area's erosion was too severe to wait further, only to find out it worsened the problem -- is one among many examples which make it hard for the public to believe the government's pledges on sustainability.

So, was hosting the Apec summit worth it? If in the coming months, if no actions are taken to meet the "green" goals the administration had set for itself a year ago, then all of this hassle was nothing but a waste.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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