Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, is routinely dismissed by its critics as weak and out of touch.
In a survey of regional opinion-leaders carried out by the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council 63% of respondents said APEC member economies are not committed to the organization as they don’t have to implement its recommendations. 56% believe APEC lacks focus and 44% see it as irrelevant to ordinary people.
It’s probably worth pointing out that a similar survey of "ordinary people" would likely throw up a fair number who don’t know what APEC is.
But APEC does know how to throw a party. Twenty-one national leaders will meet in Hanoi this week for the annual APEC forum, make the standard commitments to free trade and the need for a revitalized Doha round and, crucially, get some valuable face time with one another on the sidelines.
President Hu Jintao will not want for company.
There are already concerns in the Canadian administration that the failure to secure talks between Hu and Prime Minister Stephen Harper could escalate into a fully-fledged snub by Beijing.
Taiwan emissary Morris Chang (Taiwan presidents are banned from APEC following complaints by Beijing) has expressed hopes for "natural" interaction with Hu – i.e. he won’t seek a meeting but would prefer not to be blanked in the corridors.
For Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, making his large-scale diplomatic debut, a meeting with Hu is important in terms of domestic and international credibility – as well as putting the Koizumi era snubs firmly in the past.
But the man most in need of a shot of political adrenaline from Hu is perhaps US President George W. Bush, who would appreciate a foreign policy victory to help salvage something from the mid-term wreckage back home.
If Bush can come away with a fresh commitment from Hu on ensuring North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are brought in check or a reassuring statement that China is moving to reduce its US trade surplus, he could at least end November with one, albeit relatively small, victory under his belt.
China, too, may feel a conciliatory line on certain issues close to a US politician’s heart may go some way to pre-empting a Democrat-driven reassessment of ties with Beijing.