Each year we have to ask the same question as world leaders drag themselves across the globe, taking days from their crowded schedules, simply to hand out platitudes on the importance of free trade, the environment or some other trendy topic of the day.

True, the same question could be asked about other fairly meaningless summits — the Group of Eight of the world's allegedly most important industrial economies (which still manages to exclude China), ASEM (the Asia-Europe forum) and many others. But APEC (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum) with its convoluted membership and lack of obvious purpose really should raise eyebrows. As someone peripherally involved from the start, maybe I can throw some light.

A Japanese economics professor, Kiyoshi Kojima, formerly of Hitotsubashi University, is correctly seen as the father of APEC. In the mid-1960s I was a member of his university research group. At the time, Japan's leftwing was arguing that Japan had no choice but to normalize relations with its communist neighbors to the west — China, North Korea and the USSR — since they had provided the markets and resources crucial to Japan's prewar development. Kojima set out to prove them wrong.