THE annual Asia–Pacific Economic Co–operation meetings do not usually produce much in the way of headlines and the one that opens in Bangkok, Thailand, tomorrow is unlikely to break the mould. However, the meeting will have a special significance because it will be the first to be attended by China's new leadership – President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao – as well as by President George W Bush. For many years China has been described as a “sleeping giant”, both politically and economically. Perhaps it was never quite true, but in any case it is clear that the giant has now awakened. The new team in Beijing has already given the impression of being much more pragmatic in its political outlook than its predecessors and China's economy is operating at a fever pitch. As a result of its political stance China's relationships with other Asian countries are in better shape than they have been for a long time and this is having a pronounced effect in the field of trade. While this shift has been taking place, America's traditional dominance in the region has come under question; politically, President Bush is seen as too single–mindedly concerned with the issue of terrorism and the need for other countries to say where they stand, while economically China is demonstrating that its long–recognised potential to be a major trading force in the world is at last being realised. China's industrial strength should not be exaggerated – America's manufacturing sector is still the world's largest and American companies are heavily involved in many of China's success stories. Nonetheless, the shift in relationships taking place in the Asia–Pacific region will be very much in the background of the Bangkok meeting starting tomorrow.


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