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Thursday 22 August 2019

'United world voice' needed on Paris atrocity, say Asia-Pacific leaders

Barack Obama, second from right, reaches to shake hands with Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, far left, at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (AP)
Barack Obama, second from right, reaches to shake hands with Philippine ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia, far left, at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (AP)

Leaders at a regional summit in the Philippines will condemn the Paris terror attacks, according to a draft of their declaration.

The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum is focused on trade and economic issues but has struggled to keep its annual gathering from being overshadowed by security and geopolitical concerns.

The meeting in Manila of world leaders, including US president Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, is being held in the wake of the Paris attacks and US military manoeuvres near artificial Chinese islands in the contested South China Sea.

In the draft statement, seen by The Associated Press, Apec leaders s aid the Paris attacks "demand a united voice from the global community".

The attacks on Friday by suspected Islamic State (IS) extremists killed 129 people and wounded 350 others. The victims came from at least 19 nations.

"We stand in solidarity with the people of France and all victims of terrorism elsewhere," the draft statement said.

"Terrorism threatens our vision of free, open and prosperous economies and the fundamental values that we hold."

There was no mention in the communique of China's territorial disputes in the South China Sea with its Asian neighbours but that is unlikely to stop the rifts from bursting through Apec's facade of handshakes and unity photo opportunities.

The US military manoeuvres in the past month involving ships and B-52 bombers were intended to underline that the US will not allow freedom of navigation to be compromised by China's vast claim to the disputed waters.

The US actions were met with a rebuke from Beijing but welcomed by American allies such as the Philippines, Japan and Australia, all Apec founding members.

US officials plan to further highlight the territorial disputes during Mr Obama's stop in Manila and later in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he is to attend the East Asia Summit, an 18-nation bloc that also includes China and US allies Japan and the Philippines.

Mr Obama will tour the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, one of two US Coast Guard cutters that the Philippines obtained from Washington and turned into its largest warships in its anaemic fleet to defend its territorial waters.

The Philippines also plans to sign an agreement with Vietnam to elevate their relationship to a strategic partnership. A closer alliance will allow both nations, which are currently most at odds with Beijing in the South China Sea, to deepen trade, maritime and defence co-operation.

Meanwhile more than 300 protesters tried to march to the US embassy in Manila, scuffling with anti-riot police who blocked their way.

The farmers and youth activists wore headbands saying "Junk Apec" and chanting "US government, terrorist!" and "Down with Imperialism!"

The rally was under way as President Obama touched down in Manila. The angry chants were in contrast to tweets of "Welcome to Manila@POTUS" and pictures of Air Force One taxiing on the runway and Mr Obama being greeted by officials at a private hangar.

Before Apec leaders began arriving, officials were divided over whether to issue a statement on the Paris attacks or let each leader speak on his or her own.

After debating behind closed doors over the weekend, officials initially forged a compromise: a paragraph on terrorism would be added to the statement released at the end of the summit on Thursday.

One diplomat rejected any mention of the attacks in the statement, fearing it would draw IS's attention to Apec, said a south-east Asian diplomat who attended the meetings.

The diplomat said the United States wanted a strongly-worded response.

PA Media

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