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What exactly is APEC?
The Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation Group is an international body made up of 21 member countries including most nations with a border to the Pacific Ocean. The current members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, USA, Vietnam.
How important is it?
On the world stage, it is of limited importance. The G8 summit and the World Economic Forum attract some serious firepower, not just from among heads of government of the richest nations on Earth but also from the bankers and business barons who pull the purse strings.
However, it is fairly rare for so many world leaders to be in the same place at the same time – so when they are, what they talk about and what they sign up to can be very important. It is even more rare for Australia to be a part of this type of summit, arguably making it more important for us than for others involved (George W. Bush is leaving early, for instance).
What will they be talking about?
Since the 2001 summit in Shanghai, which took place in the summit of the September 11 attacks in the US, international security and the fight against terrorism has had an increasingly prominent place at the talks. While the summit is technically supposed to be focused on economic issues, it is argued that terrorism has such an impact on a country’s economy that it should be discussed at APEC.
Trade issues such as free trade and/or lowering tariffs between APEC members will also be on the agenda. The Prime Minister also wants the 21 world leaders to discuss setting up a regional carbon trading scheme as part of the fight against global warming.
Why are people so angry about it?
The original driving force behind the opposition to APEC was the anti-globalisation movement, which believes that groups such as APEC and the trade deals they promote merely make rich countries richer and poor countries poorer.
But since it is fairly rare for so many world leaders to be together at once, it provides a platform for protest groups of all types to target the meeting as their chance to get their message across while the spotlight is on.
So what do the protesters want?
It varies. The anti-APEC protests are anti-globalisation, anti-war, anti-WorkChoices, anti-global warming and anti-poverty, to name just a few rallying points. The wide range of leaders coming to town also means there could be single-issue protesters – for instance someone opposed to China’s human rights record or Russia’s war in Chechnya.
So the protesters are united in their opposition to the high profile names attending, but what they actually want instead can differ.
How will it affect me?
Strict security measures will be in place for the summit. This includes water exclusion zones on Darling Harbour, around the Opera House and Farm Cove and at Kirribilli point as well as a no-fly zone over the city.
The main impact on residents though will be from the “declared areas” and “restricted areas” that will be in place. In addition to the harbour restrictions, a “declared area” will be enforced from Circular Quay to King Street and from Macquarie Street to George Street. Drivers could have their cars searched if they try to enter this zone during the summit. Police have also been given specific “public security” powers for this time.
Further “restricted areas” could be established within the “declared” areas. Residents will be allowed to come and go from their homes, but they may not be allowed to drive.
Some roads will be closed, some will become clearways and others will have restricted on-street parking. Traffic will be blocked to allow motorcades special passage from hotels to venues. Museum, St James and Circular Quay stations will be closed from Friday 7 September to Sunday 9 September. Some Circular Quay buses and ferries will be affected.
Anti-APEC protesters will meet at Town Hall from 10am on the Saturday, and then march through the city to Hyde Park.
Should I just stay away from the city?
APEC organisers say the city is open for business, but to expect disruptions, limited access and if possible to leave the car at home. The New South Wales Government has suggested Sydneysiders use the long weekend to clear out of the city and avoid the disruptions completely.
Retailers, eateries and attractions will be open, except for the Opera House and Government House, which are summit venues and will be closed from 3 September to 9 September and 2 September to 10 September respectively. The areas outside the Opera House and Government House will be closed for the long weekend.
There will be a heavy police and security presence in and around the CBD over the summit weekend, including at those train stations remaining open and on public transport entering the city.
Why is so much security needed? Isn’t it overkill?
Some say yes, some say no. The presence of world leaders such as George W. Bush, Hu Jintao, Vladimir Putin makes the summit a genuine target of globally active militants. In 2003, the leader of Jemaah Islamiah, Hambali, was allegedly planning an attack on the summit in Bangkok when he was arrested in Thailand. Smaller targeting other leaders – such as Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or Gloria Arroyo of The Philippines, could possibly use the summit as a grand stage for an attack. These potential threats make a strict security operation of some sort necessary.
But protesters would say there is a world of difference between them and the likes of Hambali. They say the measures being taken, including so-called “secret lists” of people to be removed from declared areas on sight, are over the top and very worrying. Security for the event is costing around $170 million, making it even more expensive than protecting the Olympics in 2000.
Why is it in Sydney? Why not Canberra or somewhere else?
Preliminary meetings have been held in Canberra and other cities across the country, but organisers say only Sydney has the hotel capacity to host such a huge event. They projected that hosting APEC 2007 would require 25,000 room nights across the city – although they also reported room bookings significantly down on their expectations.
Disruption to a major metropolis is nothing new for APEC - previous meetings have been held in bustling centres such as Shanghai, Bangkok, Seoul and Singapore. However Mexico chose a resort town on the Baja peninsula with fewer than 200,000 residents, while the USA chose an island in the middle of the Puget Sound, near Seattle.
So is it worth it?
Organisers say APEC will put Sydney back on the world stage and let it build on trade, cultural and tourism ties with the Asia-Pacific region. They say the city will also benefit economically from hosting the event, but business groups say the public holiday alone will cost them more than $320 million in lost productivity.
The deals struck at the meeting could potentially benefit nearly 2 billion people.
However protesters say the summit will achieve nothing positive. They say the talks will be a massive waste of money better spent elsewhere that will bring widespread disruption to Sydney and set a precedent for harsh security laws in Australia.