APEC fails to live up to its name amid U.S., China acrimony
(Add Chinese Foreign Ministry comment)
By Tom Westbrook and Charlotte Greenfield
PORT MORESBY, Nov 19 (Reuters) - The C in APEC stands for
Cooperation. But when the two biggest members are fighting a
trade war and using the forum to attack each other's policies,
it was always going to be hard work delivering on that.
The weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in
Port Moresby was one of open disagreement, led by disputes
between the United States and China over trade, security, and
who would be the better investment partner for the region.
As APEC approaches its 30th anniversary, the failure to
agree on a communique for the first time calls into question its
relevance in a crowded summit calendar and as the Trump
Administration makes clear its aversion to multilateralism.
"It does mark the death of APEC's founding trade vision,"
Euan Graham, executive director of La Trobe Asia at Australia's
La Trobe University, said on Twitter, adding APEC was the "most
disposable of the regional summits".
Rather than cooperation, the theme seemed to be conflict and
containment as Beijing and Washington directly criticised each
other's policies and staked their claims as to why they were the
security and investment partner the Pacific should choose.
"It's not even supposed to be binding, it's APEC," said one
diplomat involved in negotiations for the communique, surprised
that the members couldn't agree on what is usually a humdrum
summary of issues discussed.
"China and the U.S. hijacked the APEC spirit, I suppose."
The United States even preferred its own terminology of
Indo-Pacific, which it defines as running from "the western
shores of Latin America to the furthest reaches of the Indian
Ocean", with Pence mentioning APEC five times and Indo-Pacific
41 times in his APEC speech on Saturday.
Speaking in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Geng Shuang said the United States attended APEC in a
"blaze of anger", causing disputes and disagreements and
damaging the "harmonious atmosphere" of the meeting.
"APEC is a platform to deepen cooperation, not a place to
criticise each other. China attended to promote cooperation and
seek consensus, not to get into a boxing ring," Geng told
"NOT A BIG DEAL"
Founded in 1989 with a view to fostering trade and economic
ties around the Pacific Ocean, it operated at a ministerial
level until 1993 when U.S. President Bill Clinton established
the annual leaders meeting. Each meeting had produced a joint
statement at its conclusion, until Sunday.
"This is very concerning from a systemic perspective. The
WTO faces similar challenges," said Charles Finny, a
Wellington-based trade consultant and a former New Zealand
government trade negotiator.
In an editorial, Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times
said the absence of a communique was "not a big deal", and
placed more significance on an upcoming meeting between U.S.
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders are expected to meet at the G20 summit,
which starts in Argentina next week.
"It is hoped Washington makes serious preparations for the
summit and not pin its hopes on exerting pressure," said the
tabloid, which is known for its nationalistic stance.
Still, there did seem to be some Chinese concern over the
communique, with officials rebuffed on Saturday when they tried
to meet PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato on the issue.
Pato confirmed to Reuters that Chinese officials had wanted
to see him, but said they had not made "necessary arrangements".
As the APEC host it was Papua New Guinea's (PNG) role to
produce a communique. But the hostility and conflicting visions
on display meant few blamed the group's poorest country for
being caught between two feuding superpowers.
"In these times, chairing a gathering such as the leaders
that we had over the last few days is no easy task," Australian
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, adding Papua New Guinea
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill had shown great integrity and
BACK ON THE MAP
Indeed, one big change was long-forgotten Pacific nations
found themselves aggressively courted by the two big-spending
superpowers competing for influence in the strategically
Pence said the United States would join Australia to help
PNG build a navy base on its Manus Island, which was a U.S. base
in World War II, after China had emerged as a possible developer
of the deep-water port.
Analysts had said a Chinese presence on Manus could have
impacted the West's ability to navigate in the Pacific while
offering China a site close to U.S. bases in Guam.
And the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand
unveiled a $1.7 billion plan to bring electricity and the
internet to much of PNG, a collective counter-attack to the lure
of Beijing's flagship Belt and Road program.
"Whatever concepts have been raised by the United States or
China or Australia doesn't necessarily mean that these are the
same concepts for Papua New Guinea," Wera Mori, PNG Commerce and
Industry Minister, told Reuters by phone.
"We have our own situations and our own priorities to focus
(Additional reporting by Philip Wen and Jonathan Barrett, and
Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by John Mair
Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
First Published: 2018-11-19 01:11:41
Updated 2018-11-19 11:03:24
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