PM Mahathir has tied his handover plan to the 2020 APEC summit.
He said Malaysia would host the summit in November next year and any change prior to that would cause havoc and therefore he would not hand over the baton to Anwar Ibrahim before that.
There are three questions that flash through my head:
1. Is APEC so important that it will affect the prime minister’s handover plan?
2. Will the APEC summit in Kuala Lumpur lose its lustre and meaning if Mahathir is no longer in charge?
3. Is APEC just another excuse for the prime minister to delay his handover timetable?
There were talks Mahathir would stay until after APEC, and the PM himself has confirmed that!
So, is APEC really that important in the first place?
Well, it used to be very important, and was instrumental in economic and trade liberalisation as well as political relationship in the region, especially in the 1990s when the economy of Asia Pacific was taking off. Regional countries indeed needed a platform to reduce trade barriers, facilitate cross-border trades and flow of technologies and merchandise.
APEC’s establishment should satisfy such a need.
That also happened to be the honeymoon period in the relationship between Washington and Beijing, and APEC could help create a beautiful world whereby the powers could benefit from their mutually beneficial collaboration.
But time has since changed. Following the phenomenal changes in global economy with intensified competition among major powers and the advent of anti-globalisation movement, APEC is beginning to lose its shine.
Today, economic powerhouses are putting up their own trade barriers and protectionism begins to rule again, with anti-globalisation drive rife in many small and medium-sized countries in an attempt to save themselves from being engulfed by the tide of globalisation.
The United States and China are more engrossed with trade disputes than bolstering trade liberalisation and cooperation as they race to outdo each other in technological supremacy.
Both China and the US attempt to shore up their regional influences through the One Belt One Road and Return to Asia initiatives respectively.
APEC and other similar international groupings have lost their directions against the backdrop of the new global situation and a determined shift in strategic mindsets, and are largely rendered obsolete and valueless.
For the past several years APEC summits have been reduced to routine events teeming with empty talks with leaders taking turns to give their uninspiring speeches before posing for a family photo in the host country’s national costume to round up their annual meet.
As if that is not enough, last year’s summit in Papua New Guinea was plagued by corruption with officials being offered some of the US$1 billion worth of 1,500 luxurious sedans imported for the summit, including Bentley and Maserati.
Meanwhile Brazil, suffering from chronic shortage of medicines, potholed roads and inadequate infrastructure, has put in large sums of money to host the summit, creating opportunities for resource wastage and corruption.
As for this year’s event in Chile, the host country had to cancel it due to its economic dilemma that had since sparked tremendous outcry among the people.
I don’t mean to downplay the importance of APEC nor the need for Malaysia to host the summit. I feel that we should make the best of this opportunity to host a modest, non-extravagant and corruption-free summit that will create new values for the regional grouping.
Nevertheless, I still feel that a successful summit will have nothing to do with who the prime minister is.
From the national point of view, the host of the APEC summit is Malaysia, not Mahathir Mohamad.
Leaders who wish to attend the summit will still come, be it Mahathir or Anwar or someone else who is taking charge.
In other words, the success or failure of APEC basically does not have anything to do with Mahathir.
As for whether APEC is just another excuse for Mahathir to stay in office a little longer, it is up to you to speculate.
When asked whether he will step down next December (after APEC), the prime minister said, “We’ll look at that when the time comes.”
Or perhaps he would want to first check whether the country is going to host another major event in 2021 or 2022