Asia-Pacific Leaders to Tackle Trade, Sustainability in Bangkok

War in Ukraine, great-power rivalry in Asia, inflation and food and energy shortages are on the agenda as leaders prepare for the third straight meeting this week, a Pacific Rim summit to take place in a heavily guarded location in Thailand. capital.

Leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will meet formally in closed-door sessions on Friday and Saturday. For some, it will be at least the third opportunity for such face-to-face talks in the last two weeks, even though the United States is represented in Bangkok by Vice President Kamala Harris, who will attend in place of President Joe Biden.

APEC’s official mission is to promote regional economic integration. Most of the business that takes place takes place on the sidelines of the summit in meetings such as a planned meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The two Asian powers have a history of strained relations, a legacy of Japan’s World War II aggression compounded by territorial disputes and China’s growing military might. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mao Ning, said the meeting “would be of great importance.”

Xi, Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron will also speak at a business conference just before the summit meetings, which are mostly closed to the media apart from those sponsoring the event.

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APEC meetings are held at the main convention center in downtown Bangkok, which is cordoned off with some area streets completely closed to traffic. Rows of riot police stood guard behind barricades at a nearby major intersection, underscoring host Thailand’s determination to ensure the summit is undisturbed.

“This year’s APEC meeting is taking place in the midst of a double jeopardy. We don’t need to be reminded of serious security conflicts that don’t know what victory looks like. Meanwhile, the world is watching hyperinflation coupled with recession, a broken supply chain and shortages and weather calamities,” said Don Pramudwinai, Thailand’s foreign minister, opening a meeting of foreign and trade ministers who were working on draft statements due to be issued after the summit.

Alluding to Russia and its recent condemnation of its war against Ukraine, he also said there was a growing “cancel mentality” that makes “any compromise seem impossible.”

Ahead of the summit, Thai officials said they hoped to guide APEC toward long-term solutions in a number of areas, including climate change, economic disruptions and faltering recoveries from the pandemic.

“What we’re going to do is have all economies agree on a set of goals… climate change mitigation, sustainable trade and investment, conservation of environmental resources and of course waste management,” said Cherdchai Chaivaivid, CEO of the Department of Thailand. of International Economic Affairs. “This is the first time that APEC is going to talk about this. This is the first time that we are going to open a new chapter on how trade, business and investment should be done”.

APEC’s official mission is to promote regional economic integration, which means setting guidelines for the long-term development of a free trade area. Most of their work is technical and incremental, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covering areas such as trade, tourism, forestry, health, food, security, small and medium-sized enterprises, and empowerment. of the woman.

The leaders of the 21 economies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean often take the opportunity to hold bilateral talks and discuss side deals. The Latin American contingent comes from Chile, Mexico and Peru. Other members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Biden are not running this year. Putin has been avoiding international forums where he would be showered with criticism for the invasion of Ukraine. Biden will host her granddaughter’s wedding at the White House.

That leaves Chinese leader Xi as the star attendee in Bangkok, where he will also pay an official visit to Thailand just after winning a rare third term as top leader at a once-in-five-year Communist Party congress.

Biden is giving way to China in the competition for friends and influence in Southeast Asia by skipping APEC meetings. But US officials say Washington has shown its seriousness in dealing with the region through frequent visits by cabinet members, including Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and other key senior officials.

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As host, Thailand invited three special guests to the meeting: French President Macron; Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was to represent the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but will not attend after contracting COVID-19.

For Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the most welcome visitor may well be the Saudi leader, who is on an official visit to help restore friendly relations with Thailand after decades of disruption due to the theft of Saudi royal jewels. and unresolved issues. assassinations of Saudi diplomats in Bangkok.

“This is a good opportunity, for Mohammed bin Salman to visit Thailand and both countries will resume a good economic relationship after more than 30 years,” Sanan Angubolkul, president of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, told The Associated Press. “Having the French president join us also shows how important this region is.”

The war in Ukraine remains a likely thorn in APEC’s consensus-oriented efforts. None of the previous APEC meetings this year issued statements due to disagreements over whether to mention the conflict.

Like Indonesia, which hosted the G-20 summit in Bali this week, and Cambodia, which hosted the ASEAN meetings, Thai officials have put the best possible face on the situation, saying that the agreement on other points will allow APEC to move forward despite everything.

Skeptics doubt the meeting will accomplish much.

“This APEC is just a photo opportunity for the leaders. Their agenda has drawn much less attention than the ASEAN/G-20 summit,” Virot Ali, a political scientist at Thailand’s Thammasat University, told The Associated Press.

“I don’t think we’ll see any progress from APEC. The current geopolitics, the trade war, COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war are the topics that people are paying the most attention to and feeling the most impact from,” he said.

Associated Press writers Grant Peck and Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.

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