APEC Summit: Unity on WTO Reform, Differences on Gaza and Ukraine
Key Moment at US Gathering: Joe Biden and Xi Jinping Meeting Signals Potential Easing of China-US Relations.
Following a two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, comprised of 21 economies including Russia, China, the US, and Australia, differences over the wars in Ukraine and Gaza were evident. Despite pledging support for World Trade Organization reform in their joint communique, the leaders did not address either conflict directly. The accompanying chair’s statement acknowledged discussions on the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
The spotlight of the APEC summit was the Wednesday meeting between US President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping, aimed at easing tensions between the world’s two largest economies. APEC, known for its trade focus, encompasses diverse nations, from Muslim-majority Indonesia to the US, Israel’s key ally.
While Biden emphasized the robust US economy and Pacific ties, his push for greater regional cooperation faced challenges, particularly concerning trade and his efforts to enhance workers’ rights.
Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), emphasized the significance of the Biden-Xi meeting, highlighting it as a crucial signal for increased global cooperation. She sees it as a positive indication for collaboration on pressing global challenges, with a particular emphasis on addressing issues like climate change.
Much US-China tension is linked to democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. Taiwan’s Apec envoy, the semiconductor magnate Morris Chang, said on Friday he believed the Biden-Xi summit had been a “good meeting”. He said he had informal interactions with Biden and his vice-president, Kamala Harris, and with Antony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, but not with Xi.
On the Gaza war, an Apec chair’s statement noted the bloc had merely “exchanged views on the ongoing crisis”. The war is Israel’s response to a Hamas terrorist raid from Gaza into Israel on 7 October that left about 1,200 people dead and 240 people taken hostage.
“Some leaders objected to the inclusion of this language in the accompanying 2023 Apec leaders’ Golden Gate Declaration on the basis that they do not believe that Apec is a forum to discuss geopolitical issues,” the chair’s statement said.
“Some leaders also shared the united messages of the joint Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh on 11 November 2023.”
Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia in a joint statement said they were among the Apec members who supported the messages of the Riyadh summit, which had called for an immediate end to military operations in Gaza, rejecting Israel’s justification of its actions against Palestinians as self-defence. The three countries also called for an “immediate, durable and sustained” humanitarian truce, and for the unhindered provision of essential goods and services to civilians in Gaza.
On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the statement said there had been no accord but “most members strongly condemn” the aggression. “We note with deep concern the adverse impact of the war in Ukraine and stress that it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was not among heads of state at the meeting as he faces an arrest warrant from the international criminal court. Russia instead sent deputy prime minister Alexei Overchuk.
The Apec leaders’ declaration reaffirmed their determination “to deliver a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, inclusive, and predictable trade and investment environment … We are committed to necessary reform of the WTO to improve all of its functions, including conducting discussions with a view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024.”
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters