WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will have a rare virtual meeting this week as they meet online with other Pacific Rim leaders to chart the way out crisis caused by the pandemic.
New Zealand is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum this year, which will culminate with a leaders’ meeting on Saturday. Ongoing coronavirus outbreaks and associated travel restrictions have confined the meeting to the virtual realm for a second year in a row.
As usual, APEC’s 21 members will look for areas where members can cooperate to ease barriers to trade and economic growth instead of trying to settle long-standing disputes.
The focus will be on “charting the way out of this unique crisis in a century,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, host of the leaders’ meeting, said in a statement.
In total, APEC members represent nearly 3 billion people and around 60% of global GDP. They extend around the Pacific Rim, from Chile to Russia via Thailand and Australia.
Officials say they have made significant progress in some 340 preliminary meetings. APEC members have agreed to reduce or eliminate many tariffs and border blocks on vaccines, masks and other important medical products to fight the coronavirus, said Vangelis Vitalis, chairman of the meeting of senior officials.
But friction between the great powers is the inevitable backdrop for the closed-door APEC summit meetings, which, as an economic forum, includes both Hong Kong and Taiwan in addition to mainland China led by the APEC. communists.
Taiwan and China have applied for membership in a Pacific trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Beijing saying it will block Taiwan’s candidacy on the grounds that the democratically ruled island refuses to accept it. is part of China.
Stephen Hoadley, associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, said Biden would seek to reverse the course set by his predecessor Donald Trump, who rejected regional trade deals with his America First foreign policy approach .
Since Biden took office, Washington has returned to a more internationalist approach to trade liberalization, supporting global and regional efforts such as the World Trade Organization.
However, Biden has kept in place most of the trade, technology, and investment restrictions Trump has placed on Chinese exports and businesses while working to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.
One such effort is a recent new defense agreement between Australia, the UK and the US that raised eyebrows as it did not include New Zealand or other US allies. The development of nuclear submarines is a major part of the new defense agreement, and New Zealand has a long-standing nuclear-free policy.
Hoadley said the Sino-U.S. Rivalry can be seen even in the way they describe the region, with China calling it the Asia-Pacific and the United States having spent years calling it the Indo-Pacific, to include the democratic counterweight of India – which is not a member of APEC.
Along with simmering geopolitical tensions at all times, the pandemic has added to uncertainty in a region that has long been seen as an increasingly important engine of global growth.
Many economies are still struggling to come out of the downturns that hit the region hard in 2020, blocking travel and many other activities. Prolonged outbreaks of COVID-19 infections, slow progress in vaccinations and other disruptions to both manufacturing and shipping have added to the uncertainty and brought back millions of the most vulnerable people from the world. region in poverty.
“Unfortunately too, there has been a rise in protectionism around the world, and this has also created an incredibly difficult environment for us to operate,” Vitalis said at a press briefing.
He said there are commonalities, including improving environmental sustainability and enhancing the untapped potential of indigenous groups.
New Zealand Trade Minister Damien O’Connor said on Tuesday that APEC should send a powerful message to the world ahead of a World Trade Organization meeting.
“We are facing the biggest economic shock in 75 years. We know that trade will be a powerful engine of our recovery. We absolutely cannot afford to distract our attention from an institution that has supported the work of APEC since its inception, ”said O’Connor.
Ahead of the Key Leaders Meeting, APEC will host a Youth Summit and its usual CEO Summit, with keynote addresses and a keynote address by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a dialogue on how the pandemic has changed the world.
APEC pandemic meetings lack the glitz and glamor of past face-to-face meetings. No fancy shirts or gala balls. New Zealand made the decision last year to move to a virtual summit. Malaysia has also chosen to host the APEC 2020 Leaders Meeting online due to the pandemic.
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