Reminder to Apec: No man is an island | Inquirer Opinion

Reminder to Apec: No man is an island

/ 12:08 AM November 21, 2015

With the attention focused on the just-concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Manila, I could not help thinking about the geographic implication of the term “Pacific” in the bloc’s name. Even grade-school pupils know that the Pacific Ocean holds countries not only along its rim but also in its middle portions. Thus, with the Apec using “Pacific” and not “Pacific Rim,” why are the small countries that are scattered all over the ocean excluded from the economic loop, so to speak? The small island-states are among the poorest economies in the world; their peoples also hanker for the  good life, and they need all the help they can get from their more prosperous neighbors.

Excluding Australia and New Zealand, located in Oceania are 12 sovereign states, two nonmembers of the United Nations, and 25 nonsovereign territories—with a total population of close to 10 million. These islands are unfortunate victims of the tyranny of space and distance. Their areas range from 250 to 1,000 square miles, and they are located hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart. Their peoples thrive on simple food like root crops, fish and coconut. Food security is now a growing problem in Oceania as its population grows. Incomes are uneven, with GDP per capita ranging from $1,700 to $16,300. However, income inequality is high, with certain families and leaders being favored by foreign investor-companies to get a bigger share of the national income.


Some islands have mineral resources such as copper, nickel and phosphate, but these are either depleted or nearly so. For example, Nauru’s phosphate deposits have been exhausted, and it is now a scarred and desolate landscape. The proceeds from nickel mining in New Caledonia and copper mining in Bougainville have not trickled down to the lower class and the younger generation; the situation has resulted in protracted social unrest and environmental degradation. Some islands have resorted to money-laundering and tax-sheltering schemes because of the scarcity of resources. Others have used information and communication technology in sometimes unscrupulous ways just to buoy their flagging economies.

The economic potential of these Pacific islands lies mainly in regulated tourism and fisheries on account of their scenic appeal and extensive exclusive economic zones. If it wants to help encourage these island-economies, the Apec can look into the development of these sectors. For example, it can deal with these economies as a trading group via their Pacific Island Forum.


The Pacific islands continue to be economically marginalized. (Even neighboring Australia and New Zealand kept to themselves when they organized the Closer Economic Relations Agreement.) They can only watch their neighbors converging for the annual Apec meetings and pompously strutting their economic prowess and fancy products.

The Apec is only paying lip service to its theme of “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.” With its members’ leaders returning to their countries and revving up their factories toward greater productivity using mainly fossil fuels, they even worsen the suffering of these island-economies. The Apec participants would resume their emission of greenhouse gases to the environment and in the process hasten the rise in sea levels, not to mention the onset of extreme whether conditions. With sea levels continuously rising by three millimeters yearly, in a not too distant future the first Pacific islands to be submerged would be Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu. Tonga, Palau, Nauru, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia would lose much of their territories to the sea.

The Philippines should itself be concerned: Many of its urban areas will be submerged, considering that 70 percent of its towns and cities are located on low-lying coasts.

And so, if the Apec is to foster truly inclusive growth, it should also adopt a humanitarian mindset to draw into its fold the other inhabitants of an ocean that joins them all together. For in the ocean as well as in the real world, all things are interconnected. As John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

The pursuit of economic goals has repercussions on the environment and on social and political relations. Although the Apec cannot make common pronouncements on noneconomic issues, its members can conduct bilateral or small-group talks on pressing environmental and geopolitical problems. For example, the United States and China—the two greatest polluters of the planet who refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol—could have met on the sidelines of the summit to discuss how they can save the planet, including the impoverished Pacific islanders whom the Apec has ignored since its founding in 1989.

Meliton B. Juanico is a retired professor of geography at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He is a licensed environmental planner and a professorial lecturer, and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Apec 2015, column, concerns, issues, meliton b. juanico, relationships
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.

© Copyright 1997-2022 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.