Education About Asia: Online Archives

Ten Years After: Essential Features of APEC’s Evolution and Future Prospects

Download PDF

It’s been less than a year after the Nobel Prize for economics was awarded to Robert Mundell, who provided much of the conceptual underpinning for the single currency, the euro, adopted at the beginning of 1999 by eleven of the fifteen members of the European Union (EU). Thus it seems particularly appropriate to review the ongoing enterprise of teaching about another, much younger regional grouping, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which celebrated its tenth birthday in 1999.

This is not to say, of course, that APEC has now or will ever have a single currency; it is much larger geographically than the “Eurozone,” as the eleven euro users are called. It is also larger economically; as of 1998, APEC’s twenty-one economies had a GDP of some $16 trillion, vs. approximately half that for the EU. Perhaps most importantly, APEC is far more diverse than its older European cousin, with a membership ranging from tiny but oil-rich Brunei Darusalaam, to nearby Papua New Guinea, with a population of three million people speaking several hundred languages, to its neighbor Indonesia, with 200 million people, to the most populous country, China, to two of the wealthiest nations, Japan and the United States.

Still, the EU began in 1958 as the humble six-nation Common Market, formed ostensibly to promote gains from trade in post World War II Western Europe, and more fundamentally to provide another dimension in the Western alliance against communism. Perhaps on its fortieth birthday, in 2029, APEC will have had as large a footprint on the history of Asia and the Pacific as the EU has had on the recent history of Europe.

APEC Essentials

What do students need to know about APEC? Charles Morrison, currently the President of the East-West Center, and I faced this question when we, then Co-Directors of the University of Hawaii/East-West Center APEC Study Center, offered what we believe to have been the first course in the United States on APEC in the spring semester of 1995, and repeated the offering the following spring. A 1999-vintage answer to this question has been given by Richard Feinberg, Professor (and former Dean) at the Graduate School of Pacific and International Studies of the University of California at San Diego, in his course, “APEC: Regional Integration, Policies and Procedures.”

A number of other United States scholars have integrated APEC into their universities’ curricula, notably Vinod Aggarwal at the University of California at Berkeley, Don Emmerson at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Peter Petri and Michael Plummer at Brandeis University. Abroad, APEC has even greater visibility, and I will endeavor below to guide the reader to foreign resources on teaching about APEC. However, in the interests of economy I will focus here on the Morrison-McClain initial effort, and on the more current Feinberg curriculum. This separation in time is a useful caution to those who would make APEC an object of scholarship, for APEC is a dynamic, if sometimes disappointing, organization with an evolving focus.