The International media delivers its verdict on APEC 2018

Now that APEC 2018 is over, how did Papua New Guinea do and how was the event reported to the world? Business Advantage PNG considers the international media’s mixed verdict on PNG’s hosting of APEC 2018.

Cameras at the 2018 APEC CEO Summit. Credit: ABAC

On the eve of APEC Leaders Meeting and CEO Summit in Port Moresby, we reported on how the international media was previewing the event. Now that it’s finally over, what did the they—or the English language media, at least—say?

‘I have covered a lot of summits …But none of this could have prepared me for the absolutely unique experience that was the recent APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Port Moresby,’ writes Agence France Presse’s Tokyo correspondent, Richard Carter, in a colourful and entertaining summary of his time in PNG.

‘This was a golden opportunity to tell stories from a rarely visited dateline,’ he continues. And his verdict?

‘Holding APEC in the capital of the Pacific-island country always promised to be interesting’

‘… Despite the doomsday warnings, at no stage did I feel threatened or unsafe. Admittedly we didn’t hit the streets after sunset but I have felt more on edge wandering around parts of Paris or my native London at night.’

‘Full credit to PNG. They’ve shown the world they can do a bang-up job of hosting an international summit,’ reported the Lowy Institute’s Jonathan Pyke and Shane MacLeod.

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‘The cliffhanger ending means APEC 2018 will be remembered for years to come.’

Geopolitical tensions

That cliffhanger ending—the extraordinary absence of a closing statement from the 21 APEC nations—received global attention.

As Australia’s ABC observed, it was supposed to be the ‘Xi Show’, but the US seemed intent on sharing the limelight.

‘President Xi Jinping and Vice President Mike Pence both made their cases to the global leaders assembled in Papua New Guinea—then they dug in and refused to compromise.

‘That left the group of 21 nations in disarray, unable to agree on even a routine joint statement like those that had closed every other Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit since 1989,’ noted the New York Times, which quoted Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s concerns. (This piece from the South China Morning Post, while not written from Port Moresby, provides some useful context to the US–China tensions. It argues that the US, Australia, India and Japan are moving towards forming an alliance, the Quad, reflecting a geo-strategic competition with China.)

While the APEC Chair, PNG’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, eventually released the Era Kone Statement by himself, The Economist was editorialising, rather sensationally: ‘superpower rivalry blows the APEC summit to smithereens’.

‘Holding APEC in the capital of the Pacific-island country always promised to be interesting,’ it reported, presumably from the deck of one of the P&O cruise liners.

‘At least the top deck afforded a view of the growing geopolitical battle for influence in the region.

‘Still, it was PNG that benefited the most out of the summit’

‘To seaward, the rigid inflatables of America’s armed coastguard left a sense of security in their wake. On shore, the 23-storey Noble Centre was conspicuous.’

It is perhaps not surprising that Josh Rogin of the Washington Post, who was travelling with US Vice President Mike Pence, chose to highlight what one US official referred to as China’s ‘tantrum diplomacy’ at the Summit.

On the other hand, Time magazine’s Charlie Campbell was reporting on criticisms of the USA’s ‘America first’ position:

‘Trump’s name was never mentioned, but it was no secret who was being addressed by representatives of the 21 Asia-Pacific economies.

‘First, Malaysia’s 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad condemned “trade wars between major economies,” before Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned against “throwing up protectionist barriers.”‘

Beyond the meetings

Only a few journalists appear to have looked beyond the geopolitical tensions to take a closer look at PNG itself.

Reuters’ Philip Wen made a visit to Wanigela settlement in Port Moresby to talk to some locals about APEC’s possible legacy.

The Australian’s Ben Packham also ventured out to talk to locals at Elevala, producing a more negative view of PNG and recent social unrest.

With the eyes of the world’s media turned temporarily on PNG, it is no surprise that negatives have been amplified.

The protests by security personnel over unpaid APEC allowances at Parliament Haus have been widely reported, from the Financial Times to the BBC, CNN to the Guardian.

While the portrayals of PNG in the international press were not always positive, ‘Still, it was PNG that benefited the most out of the summit,’ asserted the BBC’s  

‘Caught in the middle of the US-China battle for influence in the region, it received a new naval base to be redeveloped by the US and Australia, and a US$1.7bn investment into electricity infrastructure that America will also help build in the impoverished country. All of this to counter China’s influence in the region.’

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