Increasingly tense territorial rows in the Asia-Pacific region threaten the global economy, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned yesterday at the end of an APEC leaders’ summit plagued by divisions.
The annual gathering of APEC heads was meant to build goodwill and long-term efforts to tear down trade barriers within the bloc, which accounts for more than half of the world’s economic output.
While progress was made on cutting tariffs on environmentally friendly goods and commitments renewed to fight protectionism, bitter territorial disputes disrupted the two-day event in Russia’s port city of Vladivostok.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) did not hold customary talks on the summit sidelines because of a row. Similarly, Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak — both allies of Washington — shunned each other.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III also failed to meet with Hu, after declaring it his top priority beforehand.
The Philippines and China have endured months of bruising diplomacy over competing claims to the South China Sea — of which Beijing claims almost all — including a maritime standoff.
“Now is the time for everyone to make efforts to reduce the tension and strengthen the diplomatic involvement,” Clinton, who was filling in for US President Barack Obama, told reporters as she prepared to leave Vladivostok. “This region of the world is the economic engine in what is still a fragile global economy.”
“It’s not in the interest of the Asian countries, it’s certainly not in the interest of the United States or the rest of the world, to raise doubts and uncertainties about the stability and peace in the region,” she said.
Clinton urged Seoul and Tokyo to “lower the temperature” over sparsely populated islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and as Takeshima in Japan, but controlled by South Korea and where Lee made an unprecedented visit last month.
Japan’s relations have also deteriorated anew with China over competing claims to the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) in the East China Sea.
APEC spans the Pacific Rim, from China to Chile, and includes the world’s three-biggest national economies — the US, China and Japan — with its 21 members accounting for 44 percent of the world’s trade.
In their final summit statement, the leaders pledged to help boost the sluggish global economy by strengthening demand in their own countries, cutting public debt and committing to no new trade barriers.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s envoy to the APEC meeting, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), yesterday said the formation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea should not exclude Taiwan, a proposition to which many of the representatives at the APEC summit meeting agreed.
Lien, representing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), met with ASEAN members to discuss sovereignty issues in the South China Sea.
Taiwan’s principle concerning the South China Sea issue — that its sovereignty belongs to Taiwan, that Taiwan is willing to peacefully share the resources therein and that all parties involved should lay aside their differences and embark on a joint venture to develop resources in the region — is clear-cut and has not wavered, he said.
Many of the countries involved hope that talks over the South China Sea can commence as soon as possible and that a code of conduct should be formed, Lien said.