News National APEC 2018: Regional meeting ends in disarray as leaders fail to reach consensus on communique

APEC 2018: Regional meeting ends in disarray as leaders fail to reach consensus on communique

Conflicting visions for the region made it difficult to draft a summit communique. Photo: PNG government
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The APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea has ended in disarray, with regional leaders unable to reach a consensus on trade and deciding not to issue their usual joint communique.

Officials from China and the US clashed over whether the communique should include language which criticised Beijing’s trade practices, as well as the World Trade Organisation.

Papua New Guinea will instead issue a “chairman’s statement”, Zhang Shaogang, director-general of China’s international department at the Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday.

Conflicting visions for the region had made it difficult to draft a summit communique, PNG foreign minister Rimbink Pato said, as the United States and China revealed competing ambitions for the region.

Director general of China’s Department of International Economic Affairs, Wang Xiaolong, said the agreement among the leaders was to authorise the PNG chairmanship to issue a joint statement reflecting the consensus and agreement among the various members.

“It [the multilateral trading system] is not exactly a sticking point between any particular two countries,” he said.

“I think in the discussions a lot of economies made their comments on the issue of the development of the multilateral trading system, as well as how to strengthen and improve the functioning of the world trade centre,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping joins Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and PNG’s PM Peter O’Neill after the APEC leaders group shot on Sunday. Photo: EPA/AAP

“Frankly speaking, we are in the very early stage of those discussions. Different countries have different ideas about how to take that process forward and I think there will be a process of consensus building as we go along.

“Hopefully those discussions will crystallise into more concrete outcomes.”

But he said some of the trade issues were beyond the scope of APEC.

“APEC is a regional economic forum. Those issues related to WTO (World Trade Organisation) will have to be discussed and decided on the basis of a broad-based process and with the involvement of countries and economies beyond the APEC region, because at the end of the day what happens to the WTO has to be decided by the full WTO membership,” he said.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison meets locals at the University of Papua New Guinea on Sunday. Photo: AAP

The ‘entire world is worried’

The 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Port Moresby struggled to bridge differences on the role of the WTO, which governs international trade.

“The entire world is worried” about tensions between China and the US, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said.

US Vice-President Mike Pence and China’s President Xi Jinping traded barbs in speeches on Saturday.

Mr Pence professed respect for Mr Xi and China but also harshly criticised the world’s second biggest economy for intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair trading practices.

Mr Pence told reporters that during the weekend he had two “candid” conversations with Mr Xi, who is expected to meet US President Donald Trump at a G20 summit at the end of this month in Buenos Aires.

“There are differences today. They begin with trade practices, with tariffs and quotas, forced technology transfers, the theft of intellectual property,” Mr Pence said.

“It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights.”

The US is interested in a better relationship “but there has to be change” from China’s side, Mr Pence said he told Mr Xi, who responded that dialogue was important.