Thursday 13 December 2018
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Asia-Pacific leaders fail to reach consensus on APEC communique

PORT MORESBY — A Chinese official said on Sunday (Nov 18) that Asia-Pacific leaders could not issue the traditional communique at the end of the regional APEC forum, held in Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG will instead issue a chairman s statement , said Zhang Shaogang, director-general of China s international department at the Ministry of Commerce. In his closing comments to the forum, PNG Prime Minister Peter O Neill said the group was trying to ensure free and open trade by 2020. Conflicting visions for the region had made it difficult to draft a summit communique, PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato told Reuters earlier on Sunday, as the United States and China revealed competing ambitions for the region. On Saturday, the US and China swapped barbs over trade, investment and regional security. Speaking in the Papua New Guinean capital, US Vice President Mike Pence said there would be no end to American tariffs until China changed its ways, after its president, Xi Jinping, warned that the shadow of protectionism and unilateralism was hanging over global growth. Pence took direct aim at Xi s flagship Belt and Road programme, which China has been promoting to Pacific nations at APEC, saying countries should not accept debt that compromised their sovereignty. We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road, Mr Pence told the APEC CEO summit, a precursor to the official leaders meeting, held on a cruise liner tethered in Port Moresby s Fairfax Harbour. China s efforts to win friends in the resource-rich Pacific have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region - Australia and the United States. US President Donald Trump is not attending the APEC meeting, nor is his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Mr Xi, who is staying in Port Moresby, has been feted by PNG officials and stoked Western concern on Friday when he held a meeting with Pacific island leaders, in which he pitched the Belt and Road initiative. Speaking before Mr Pence, Mr Xi said there was no geopolitical agenda behind the project, which was unveiled in 2013 and aims to bolster a network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. It does not exclude anyone. It is not an exclusive club closed to non-members, nor is it a trap as some people have labelled it. There have been concerns that small countries that sign up for infrastructure projects will be left with debt burdens they cannot service, something Mr Pence highlighted. Do not accept foreign debt that could compromise your sovereignty. Protect your interest. Preserve your independence. And just like America, always put your country first, he said. Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities in its main southern port of Hambantota to a Chinese company last December as part of a plan to convert US$6 billion (S$8.23 billion) of loans that Sri Lanka owed China into equity. Soon after Mr Pence spoke, Australia said it was joining the US and Japan in a partnership that would help countries in the region develop infrastructure priorities, a possible alternative to China s Belt and Road.

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