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Asia must shed myth of limited good

This year's summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum comes as Asia faces pressure to revert to an old notion that prosperity and power only come at the expense of others. This dynamic region should resist such myths.

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Activists holding Chinese and Taiwanese flags are arrested Aug. 15 by Japanese police after landing on one of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese) in the East China Sea. The disputed ownership of a tiny constellation of islands in Asia is inflaming nationalist fervor in the region.

AP Photo

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Leaders of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies will gather this weekend for what should have been simply another yearly summit.

But this annual gathering of 21 Asia-Pacific nations – whose members range from Thailand to China to Japan to the United States – comes at a time of strong pressure on them to resort to an old idea – namely, that prosperity and power only come at the expense of others.

This myth of limited good in human affairs is a hard one to break. But consider these challenges now facing the nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum:

At least seven Asian nations are clashing dangerously over claims to islands and the ocean resources around them. China and the US are beefing up their militaries in a contest for influence. And two proposals for regional trade pacts – one led by China, the other by the US – are competing for support.

In addition, slow growth in Europe, India, Japan, the US, and China has more nations scrambling for advantage in trade, resources, and commercial ideas. The very openness that made the Asia-Pacific region so dynamic is in jeopardy.

One reason behind these problems is that China regards the US as a superpower in decline, especially since the 2008 financial crisis. Its aggressive expansion in Asia has prompted the Obama administration to seek strong trade and military ties in the region, even with old foe Vietnam.

All sides in APEC still talk of “win-win” strategies. In fact, the theme of this year’s summit, which is being held in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, is “Integrate to Grow, Innovate to Prosper.”

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