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Multilateral summits hasten policymaking

It is easy to be skeptical about the kind of meetings that US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and a small army of other global and regional leaders swept through in China, Myanmar, and Australia this month. Multilateral summitry lends itself to familiar gibes about wildly expensive photo opportunities, set-piece speeches endorsing pre-cooked lowest-common-denominator communiqués, and more time devoted to parading around in silly shirts than to policy substance.

But November's three summits – the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, the East Asian Summit in Naypyidaw, and G-20 meet in Brisbane – should have the skeptics eating their words. Each contributed substantially to the quality of global governance, as summit diplomacy ideally should, in three distinct ways: formal outcomes, useful byproducts and positive atmospherics.

In Beijing, the major formal outcome was the new momentum generated for the Free Trade Agreement for Asia-Pacific as a complementary mechanism to...

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