The Pacific Rim is the name given to the countries located on the edges of the Pacific Ocean, and is a term generally associated with economic interaction among these countries. Together, they account for some 42 percent of the world’s population, and about 56 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), as well as about half of the trade in the entire world. The term Pacific Rim was coined in the early 1980s and used by Anthony H. Chisholm and Rodney Tyers in their book, Food Security: Theory, Policy, and Perspectives From Asia and the Pacific Rim. Four years later, David Aik-man followed up on the theme with Pacific Rim: Area of Change, Area of Opportunity.
Since ancient times, there were clearly interactions between the different parts of the Pacific as the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl was able to show in his Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947. Gavin Menzies in his book 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (2002) has also argued that the Chinese had managed to voyage to the Americas, an argument first propounded at length by John Ranking in Historical Researches on the Conquest of Peru, Mexico, Bogota, Natchez and Talameco in the Thirteenth Century by the Mongols (1827), although Ranking dates the contact as a century or so earlier than Menzies. From the 16th century, with the Spanish taking the Philippines and being involved in some of the Pacific islands, there were trade links across the Pacific with the Manila galleons and other ships regularly traversing the Pacific. Valparaiso in Chile was a port much concerned with this trans-Pacific trade for centuries. In World War II, there was much fighting in the Pacific, with the Southwest Pacific area being designated by the Allies. The mutual defense treaties, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Australia-New Zealand-United States Treaty (ANZUS), both encompassed the Pacific, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) being founded in 1967 and coming to represent first a political and then a largely trade organization.
It was in the 1970s, when some of the countries around the Pacific started booming economically, that moves were made to increase trade across the Pacific to allow other countries to benefit from the new Asian “tiger” economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan (Republic of China). The emergence of China as a major economic power seeking close involvement in the Pacific and the end of communism in the Soviet Union (and indeed the end of the Soviet Union in 1991) helped encourage this sense of community in the Pacific Rim, which led to the formation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1989.
The idea of bringing together the countries of the Pacific Rim was that there were vast natural resources in some of the countries: Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, the Pacific parts of Russia, and the United States. Australia, Chile, and the United States are also centers of agricultural production, as are New Zealand and Thailand; and the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan have great technological expertise, and China, Indonesia, and Mexico have vast human resources. Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (since 1997 a part of China) are centers of great entrepreneurial skills, and Japan and the United States have an aggressive capitalist outlook. Together, it was felt that these countries can contribute to their own prosperity and also the prosperity of other countries in the region.
Mention should also be made of the other countries in the region: Brunei and Malaysia, which have always been prosperous; the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama; and Cambodia, Vietnam, and North Korea, which have gone through periods of isolation. By nature of the definition, the Pacific islands are generally excluded from the Pacific Rim, although Papua New Guinea has been a member of APEC since 1993. India has also requested membership of APEC although it is not “on” the Pacific Rim.
There have been a number of studies of the Pacific Rim and how trade alliances have helped cement business relationships in these countries. Many of these countries are heavily involved in export trade, and curiously, most even those in Latin America-have significant Chinese communities that have fostered contact for over a century. Indeed, that became the subject of the book Lords of the Rim: The Invisible Empire of the Overseas Chinese by the well-known U.S. writer Sterling Seagrave.
U.S. businesses also proliferate in the Pacific Rim, with the major cities in the Pacific Rim being seen as Auckland (New Zealand), Busan (formerly Pusan, South Korea), Brisbane (Australia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Lima (Peru), Los Angeles, Manila (the Philippines), Melbourne (Australia), Panama City (Panama), Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Santiago (Chile), Seattle, Seoul (South Korea), Shanghai (China), Singapore, Sydney (Australia), Taipei (Taiwan), Tokyo (Japan), Vancouver (Canada), and Yokohama (Japan). Most of these cities are ports and shipping remains the key to the Pacific Rim. Honolulu, Hawaii, has become the headquarters of some trans-Pacific operations such as the East-West Center and the Institute of Asian Research, with the regular Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) controlled by the U.S. Pacific Command, also coming from there. Manila, the former headquarters of SEATO, has been the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank; and Singapore is the location of the headquarters of APEC. The headquarters of the ASEAN secretariat is currently in Jakarta, Indonesia.