Leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific nations failed Sunday to bridge gaping divisions at a summit overshadowed by a war of words over the US and China as they vie for influence in the region.
For the first time in the history of the APEC grouping, leaders were unable to agree on a formal written declaration amid sharp differences over trade policy.
“The leaders agreed that instead of a traditional leaders’ declaration, they would leave it to the hands of PNG as the chair to issue a chair statement on behalf of all the members,” said Zhang Xiaolong, a spokesman from the Chinese foreign ministry.
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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted there were “different visions on particular elements with regard to trade that prevented full consensus on a communique document.” The annual gathering, held for the first time in Papua New Guinea, was overshadowed by speeches from Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Mike Pence, which appeared to represent competing bids for regional leadership.
Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China’s massive Belt-and-Road infrastructure programme, which sees Beijing offer money to poorer countries for construction and development projects.
The “opaque” loans come with strings attached and build up “staggering debt”, Pence charged, mocking the initiative as a “constricting belt” and a “one-way road”.
He urged nations instead to stick with the United States, which doesn’t “drown our partners in a sea of debt” or “coerce, corrupt or compromise your independence”.
Earlier, strategic tensions reached boiling point at APEC in Papua New Guinea after it emerged a group of Chinese officials sought to influence host nation’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato over the wording of the summit’s official communique.
Four Chinese officials were banished from Mr Pato’s office at Port Moresby’s International Convention Centre yesterday after they sought a private audience with Mr Pato, amid wrangling over the wording of the statement
A spokesman for Mr Pato said the minister was in his office when Chinese officials demanded to see him, but they were denied entry.
The spokesman said the minister would not deal with officials and the attempt to see the minister was inappropriate, as the Foreign Minister dealt only with counterpart ministers.
It’s understood security guards were called to usher the officials out of his Mr Pato’s office.
The move came as APEC drafters argued over the wording of a ministerial communique about 1pm.
The incident follows a protocol breach at the recent Pacific Island Forum , where a Chinese official staged a dramatic walkout when Taiwan-supporting Nauru blocked his attempt to address the forum.
The escalating tensions between China and the US in the Pacific over trade and security have been a focal point of the summit, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted progress was being made.
At a press conference on Sunday he played down suggestions relations in the Pacific were fractured.
“I think that overly exaggerates the situation,” the Prime Minister said.
“I think there is a lot more pragmatism going on here than people have been prepared to acknowledge in the commentary.
“There’s a lot of movement under the water.”