Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stressed the need to reject confrontation in Asia, warning against the risk of cold war tensions, as leaders gather for the last of three world summits hosted in the region this month.
Xi has already used the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Bangkok to stake out how he wants China to viewed by his counterparts – framing the country as a driver of regional unity in a written speech released ahead of Friday’s opening day.
Without specifically naming the United States, the speech also appeared to make several jabs at the US.
The Asia-Pacific region is “no one’s backyard” and should not become “an arena for big power contest,” Xi said in the statement, in which he also warned against attempts to “disrupt” or “dismantle” industrial supply chains.
“Unilateralism and protectionism should be rejected by all; any attempt to politicize and weaponize economic and trade relations should also be rejected by all,” said Xi, who was originally due to deliver the remarks to business leaders but canceled due to unforeseen scheduling conflicts, Reuters reported, citing organizers.
“No attempt to wage a new cold war will ever be allowed by the people or by our times,” he added. Xi struck a milder tone in a separate address to APEC leaders on Friday morning as the event got underway, calling for stability, peace and the development of a “more just world order.”
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated sharply in recent years, with the two sides clashing over Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, North Korea, and the transfer of technology among other issues.
In August, following a visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China fired multiple missiles into waters around the self-governing island and ramped up naval and warplane exercises in the surrounding area. Beijing claims the democratic island as its territory, despite never having controlled it, and suspended a number of dialogues with the US over the visit.
But US-China tensions, which relaxed slightly following a landmark meeting between Xi and US President Joe Biden in Bali, Indonesia earlier this week, are not the only shadow hanging over the APEC summit.
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Friday morning, the second missile test by the Kim Jong Un regime in two days, and part of a period of increased provocation from Pyongyang.
US Vice President Kamala Harris gathered on the sidelines of the summit with leaders from Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to condemn the launch, in a previously unscheduled media brief.
Leaders and representatives from 21 economies on both sides of the Pacific – accounting for around half of global trade – will also grapple with how to address the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine over the course of their two-day summit, an annual gathering meant to advance regional economic integration.
At stake is whether leaders can find consensus over how to treat Russia’s aggression in a concluding document, or whether differences in view between the broad grouping of nations will stymie such a result, despite months of discussion between APEC nations’ lower-level officals.
In an address to business leaders alongside the summit Friday morning, French President Emmanuel Macron, who was invited by host country Thailand but is not part of the grouping, called for consensus and unity against Russia’s aggression.
“Help us to convey the same message to Russia: stop the war, respective international order and come back to the table,” he said.
Macron also called out the US-China rivalry, warning of the risks to peace if countries are forced to choose between the two great powers.
“We need a single global order,” Macron said to applause from business leaders.
Prior to the start of events on Friday, Chinese leader Xi sat down with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Thursday, in the first meeting between leaders of the two countries in nearly three years. Both sides called for more cooperation following a breakdown in communication over points of contention from Taiwan to disputed islands.
Xi also met with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos – in a bid to underline the importance of regional relationships for China. They added to a packed line-up of bilateral meetings during what is only Xi’s second trip overseas since the start of the pandemic and his first since taking a norm-breaking third term as China’s leader.
In his comments to APEC leaders Friday, Xi also said China would consider hosting the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation next year. The event, linked to China’s overseas development and infrastructure drive, has not been held since 2019, as China has continued to restrict its borders following the outbreak of Covid-19.
Unlike at the G20 earlier this week, Xi is not entering APEC having to sit across the table from Biden, who left Asia on Wednesday for a family event and handed American representation in Bangkok to the Vice President.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will also not be in attendance, instead sending a representative, having already skipped the G20 and meetings around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia over the past week.
When asked about the potential for consensus in the upcoming leaders’ summit, following a meeting of APEC foreign ministers on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was optimistic.
“Far from splitting along one line or another, I think we see increasing convergence among all of the countries on the critical issues that actually matter in the lives of our citizens … I think you’ll see coming out of Bangkok in the next 24 hours or so, important steps forward that we’re taking together,” he said.