US-China trade tensions escalate at Asia Pacific talks
Leaders of Asia-Pacific nations failed for the first time to agree a joint communique at a summit in Papua New Guinea yesterday after police were called when trade tensions between the US and China boiled over.
Insiders said the sticking point was US demands to include reference to reforming the World Trade Organisation and “unfair trade practices”, which Beijing took as an unsubtle dig.
Chinese diplomats turned up unannounced to persuade Rimbink Pato, Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister, to back their wording, but things turned ugly when he refused to meet them.
“Police were posted outside the minister’s office after they tried to barge in,” one source privy to summit negotiations told the AFP news agency. The source asked to remain anonymous.
Instead of a leaders’ declaration backed by the 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec), Peter O’Neill, prime minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG), said he would issue a chairman’s statement.
It marks the first time in Apec’s 29-year history that its members could not agree.
When asked which nations could not agree, Mr O’Neill replied: “You know the two big giants in the room.”
East-West tensions were on display from the start of the summit, with the two blocs manoeuvring for influence.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, was feted by PNG officials when he arrived on Thursday to pitch his Belt and Road initiative to Pacific island nations. The programme offers investment in infrastructure to less developed countries.
In response, Mike Pence, the US vice-president, warned smaller countries not to be seduced by Chinese money that comes with strings attached. The US and its allies – Japan, Australia and New Zealand – countered with a $1.7bn (€1.5bn) plan to deliver reliable electricity and the internet to PNG.
China came away with at least one success. A Tongan official said it had signed up to the initiative and had been given a five-year deferral on loan repayments, as Chinese officials insisted they did not want to add to the burden of small countries.
Mr Pence said in a blunt speech there would be no end to US tariffs on $250bn of Chinese goods until China changed its ways. As he left the PNG capital of Port Moresby yesterday, he listed US differences with China.
“They begin with trade practices, with tariffs and quotas, forced technology transfers, the theft of intellectual property. It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights,” Mr Pence said.
He also took direct aim at Mr Xi’s signature Belt and Road initiative, saying in his speech countries should not accept debt that compromised their sovereignty. “We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road,” he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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