Tuesday 18 December 2018

China-US divisions widen as no communique is reached at Pacific summit

The 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit struggled to bridge differences on the role of the World Trade Organisation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US vice president Mike Pence were among the world leaders at the summit (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Chinese President Xi Jinping and US vice president Mike Pence were among the world leaders at the summit (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

By Stephen Wright, Associated Press

A meeting of world leaders in Papua New Guinea has failed to agree on a final communique, highlighting widening divisions between the US and China.

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

A statement would be issued by the meeting’s chair, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, instead.

“The entire world is worried” about tensions between China and the US, Mr O’Neill told reporters after he confirmed there was no communique from leaders.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters there were differences between several nations including China and the US.

Draft versions of the communique seen by The Associated Press showed the US wanted strong language against unfair trade practices that it accuses China of.

The two-day summit was punctuated by acrimony and underlined a rising rivalry between China and the West for influence in the usually neglected South Pacific.

US vice president Mike Pence and China’s President Xi Jinping traded blows in speeches on Saturday.

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

The world, according to Mr Xi, is facing a choice between co-operation and confrontation as protectionism and unilateralism grows. He said the rules of global institutions set up after the Second World War such as the World Trade Organisation should not be bent for selfish agendas.

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 Group of 20 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. It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights,” Mr Pence said.

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 is important.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping says the world is facing a choice between co-operation and confrontation (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

In Port Moresby, the impact of China’s aid and loans is highly visible. But the US and allies are countering with efforts to finance infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and other island states. The US has also said it will be involved in ally Australia’s plan to develop a naval base with Papua New Guinea.

On Sunday, the US, New Zealand, Japan and Australia said they would work with Papua New Guinea’s government to bring electricity to 70% of its people by 2030. Less than 20% have a reliable electricity supply.

“The commitment of the United States of America to this region of the world has never been stronger,” said Mr Pence at a signing ceremony. A separate statement from his office said other countries are welcome to join the electrification initiative provided they support the US vision of a free and open Pacific.

China, meanwhile, has promised 4 billion US dollars (£3.12 billion) of finance to build the the first national road network in Papua New Guinea, among the least urbanised countries in the world.

Press Association

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