APEC pledges to boost trade as geopolitical rifts hijack regional summits
Most APEC members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine, said a joint declaration after talks in Bangkok.
BANGKOK: Leaders of the 21-member APEC bloc pledged on Saturday (Nov 19) to boost trade and do more to tackle other economic challenges, wrapping up the last of three summits in the region in a week that have been overshadowed by intense geopolitical rivalry.
The summits have been attended by global leaders, and the talks have often been disrupted by friction spilling over from the war in Ukraine as well as flashpoints such as the Taiwan strait and the Korean peninsula.
A Southeast Asian summit that included China, Japan and the United States was held in Cambodia, while the Group of 20 (G20) major economies met on the Indonesian island of Bali.
The opening of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting was interrupted on Friday when Vice President Kamala Harris, who is heading the US delegation, called an emergency gathering of allies on the sidelines to condemn North Korea after it test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.
On Saturday, Thai Prime Minister and APEC chair Prayut Chan-o-cha sought to bring the focus back to economic issues and said APEC made "significant progress" by agreeing to a multi-year work plan for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
An APEC leaders' declaration said the group would uphold and further strengthen a rules-based multilateral trading system, but also recognised more intensive efforts were needed to address challenges like rising inflation, food security, climate change and natural disasters.
"This year, we have also witnessed the war in Ukraine further adversely impact the global economy," said the declaration.
"Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy," it added.
At the G20 meeting in Indonesia, members unanimously adopted a declaration that said most members condemned the Ukraine war but also acknowledged some countries saw the conflict differently.
The APEC leaders echoed the G20 declaration as they referred to UN resolutions that deplore Russia's aggression and demand its complete and unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, but also noted a variety of opinions.
"There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions. Recognising that APEC is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy," the bloc said.
Russia is a member of both G20 and APEC but President Vladimir Putin has stayed away from the summits. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov is representing him at APEC.
The US city of San Francisco will host the next APEC summit and Prime Minister Prayut handed over the chair to Vice President Harris at a ceremony.
"We are ready to conduct a seamless cooperation with them," he said, while presenting Harris with a "chalom", a woven bamboo basket used to carry goods and gifts in Thailand.
A day earlier, North Korea's missile test just an hour before the APEC forum was inaugurated prompted Harris to call an emergency meeting with leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Canada and New Zealand.
"This conduct by North Korea most recently is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions," Harris said.
Friday's launch came after US President Joe Biden met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday in Bali and said Beijing has an obligation to try to talk North Korea out of resuming nuclear testing, while adding that it was unclear whether China would be able to sway Pyongyang.