JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Once again a gathering of international leaders has been blighted for Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. This time by the death of her father. Ms Gillard left Vladivostok early, but not before some key meetings with other leaders from the Asia Pacific, among other things to push for action on APEC’s (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) raison d’etre: free and open trade.
And not without reason. In the quarter century since its existence the organisation has frequently been side-tracked by geopolitics. This year a host of territorial disputes across the region.
Kate Arnott reports.
KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: It’s seven timezones from Moscow, and a long neglected region of Russia. But the far east provides the country with the chance for the country to make a pivotal shift to Asia as Europe struggles with its debt crisis.
(Footage of Vladimir Putin arriving on stage at APEC)
As the host of the APEC summit, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, issued a strong warning about the fragile state of the global economy.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (translation): the world is entering a new economic, technological and geopolitical era. This transition will be a long one and it will not be easy. For some it will be painful, many known approaches will undergo a review. Instead of declarations life will require pragmatism and practical actions.
KATE ARNOTT: Asia remains the biggest driver of global growth despite a decline in China. Nevertheless, revitalising trade and growth is an urgent priority for APEC.
HU JINTAO, CHINESE PRESIDENT (translation): China welcomes the Asia Pacific business community getting involved in China’s reform and modernisation. China will work with all of you to sustain economic growth and improve the lives of Asia Pacific people.
HILLARY CLINTON, US SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is making a major investment in the Asia Pacific, and we are doing everything we can to promote that open, free, transparent and fair economic system.
KATE ARNOTT: Hillary Clinton is standing in for the US president who’s tied up campaigning for re-election.
And the Australian Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, has taken the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s, seat at the APEC table.
VLADIMIR PUTIN (translation): One of our colleagues, the Australian Prime Minister, had a very unfortunate tragedy in her family, her father passed away. So on behalf of everyone I would like to express our condolences.
KATE ARNOTT: Ms Gillard, though, did make the trip to Vladivostok. And before heading home to be with her family had the chance to meet her Malaysian counterpart to discuss asylum seeker issues.
As well, Ms Gillard formalised a deal with Papua New Guinea to open an asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island. The agreement spells out that Australia must meet all of the costs incurred.
PETER O’NEILL, PNG PRIME MINISTER: There will be a considerable amount of work that needs to be done. And I think the officials that visited the Manus Island are aware of it.
We’ve stated that this is a regional issue and we’re not interested in making money out of the issue as such.
JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Any asylum seeker venturing to Australia on a boat is at risk of being transferred to Nauru or to Manus Island. But even more worryingly they are at risk of losing their lives because we continue to see so many more tragedies at sea.
KATE ARNOTT: The Australian Prime Minister also strongly endorsed plans to reduce tariffs on environmental products, and further open up the region’s higher education market.
The aim is to make it easier for students and researchers to move to other universities and colleges in the Asia Pacific, and set up campuses in other APEC countries.
CRAIG EMERSON, AUSTRALIAN TRADE MINISTER: We see this as the signature statement of the 21st century. Investing in the talents of our children and ensuring that the students, the academics and the institutions can be very mobile across the region.
KATE ARNOTT: Russia too is a keen advocate of the plan. The summit is being held at a new university campus, part of a special $21 billion APEC upgrade of Vladivostok.
There have been plenty of meetings on the sidelines of the summit. But there’s been next to no interaction between the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea who are all embroiled in territorial disputes.
PROFESSOR NICK BISLEY, LA TROBE UNIVERSITY: At this stage the disputants are hardening their positions, they’re not softening them. No-one things the Chinese are going to move significantly on this between now and the leadership change later in the year.
KATE ARNOTT: And so that Chinese leadership change, combined with regional security tensions and the absence of Barack Obama means the chances of any breakthroughs in Vladivostok are slim.
DR JAMES LAURENCESON, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND: Achieving economic agreements are tough. When you throw security and territorial issues into the mix it becomes even more complicated.