Mon, Nov 19, 2018 - Page 1 News List

APEC summit concludes without final communique

HISTORIC FIRST:Differences between the US and China reportedly led to the failure to agree on a statement, amid reports that PRC delegates tried to storm a minister’s office

AFP, PORT MORESBY

Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill yesterday speaks at the closing of the APEC summit in Port Moresby.

Photo: AFP

Asia-Pacific leaders yesterday failed to bridge gaping divisions over trade at a summit dominated by a war of words between the US and China as they vie for regional influence.

For the first time in the group’s history, APEC leaders were unable to agree on a formal written declaration amid sharp differences between the world’s top two economies over the rules of global trade.

“You know the two big giants in the room. What can I say?” host and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said, conceding defeat.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the failure came down to “different visions on particular elements with regard to trade that prevented full consensus.”

A US official familiar with the talks said China balked at some language related to trade. At issue was a pledge by the governments to fight “all” unfair practices, which China objected to including in the statement, said the official, who asked not to be identified as the discussions were private.

The 20 other nations endorsed the language, the official said.

O’Neill indicated that the WTO had been a sticking point in agreeing on a joint communique.

“APEC has got no charter over the World Trade Organization. That is a fact,” he said. “Those matters can be raised at the World Trade Organization.”

O’Neill denied it was a humiliation for his country, which was hosting the annual gathering of the 21 nations for the first time. He said a formal APEC statement would be released at a later date.

As tensions boiled over, police were called when Chinese officials attempted to “barge” into the Papua New Guinean foreign minister’s office on Saturday in an 11th-hour bid to influence the summit’s communique, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.

“Police were posted outside the minister’s office after they tried to barge in,” one source said on condition of anonymity.

The minister had refused to meet with the delegates, another source said, adding: “It’s not appropriate for the minister to negotiate solo with the Chinese. The Chinese negotiating officials know this.”

The minister yesterday tried to downplay the incident, telling reporters “there wasn’t an issue.”

However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Wang Xiaolong (王小龍) denied the incident occured, telling reporters: “It’s not true. It’s simply not true.”

Even before the summit started, tensions between the two big hitters came to the fore with US Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) crossing swords in competing speeches.

“I spoke to President Xi twice during the course of this conference. We had a candid conversation,” Pence told reporters yesterday.

He told him the US is interested in a better relationship with China, “but there has to be change” in Beijing’s trade policies.

With fears that a trade war between the two rivals could cripple the Pacific Rim economy, some attendees voiced concern about the growing rivalry for influence.

“Business leaders do not want to speak out, but behind the scenes here, they are talking over dinner saying: ‘How has this happened?’” Digicel chairman Denis O’Brien said. “It’s a very forced situation, one country is trying to force all the other countries to change tariffs agreed over years.”

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

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