Apec stands for Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation, or what an Australian politician once wryly described as “four adjectives in search of a noun”.
If you have no idea what most of the rest stand for, you can be forgiven, unless you are a government official or a journalist assigned to cover the summit. In that case, you had better brush up. I know I had to. I promise not to use more than one or two in my reports.
There are more than 10,000 trade delegates in Hanoi from the 21 nations that make up Apec. Check that, it is not 21 “nations”, but 21 “member economies”, since Taiwan is not technically a nation, although it is a member.
And no one wants to insult the mainland Chinese, except maybe some Taiwanese, but they are vastly outnumbered.
Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, was one of the first foreign dignitaries to arrive in Hanoi. China’s new, dynamic leader is upstaging George Bush, the US president, who is seen as a lame duck, unable to deliver on his promises now that his Republican party no longer controls the US congress.
In fact, Bush had hoped to arrive with a valuable gift for his Vietnamese hosts – a new trade deal – but congress snatched the present from his hands just before he boarded his plane, by refusing to approve the legislation necessary to fully normalise US trade relations with Vietnam.
This is only the second time a US president has visited Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam war or what the Vietnamese call the Liberation war.
Six years ago, Bill Clinton, who like Bush did his best to avoid Vietnam as a young man, enthralled the Vietnamese and was greeted by huge crowds.
On his visit, Bush will attend a church service and visit the new stock market in Ho Chi Minh City or HCM City. At least that acronym makes some sense.
What the Apec acronym alphabet soup really boils down to is this: All of Hanoi’s hotels have been fully booked for months, government buildings have a fresh coat of paint, and flowers have been planted along the city’s tree-lined streets, which have been swept clean of garbage, street children and political dissidents.
Foreign visitors are pumping money into Vietnam’s economy, the fastest growing in Asia after China. From over-tipping taxi drivers to spending a billion dollars to build a new computer chip factory, foreign investors are making the preternaturally smiling Vietnamese smile even wider.
I saved my favourite international trade acronym for last: UNICE. Believe it or not, I have heard that one used on the streets of HCM City. “UNICE, mister. Me nice too.”