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APEC can’t agree on joint statement after 2-day meeting

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill gives a speech at a press conference after the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

LUI SIU WAI/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS

By JASON SCOTT AND DANDAN LI | Bloomberg News | Published: November 18, 2018

Asia-Pacific leaders could not agree on the wording of a communique after two days of talks in Papua New Guinea, reflecting tensions fueled by a trade war between the U.S. and China.

Speaking at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said negotiations had been among the 21 nations represented. He said there would be a “chair’s summary” of discussions.

“I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise that there are differing visions on particular elements in regard to trade,” Trudeau said Sunday. “That prevented there from being a full consensus on the communique document.”

The growing U.S.-China trade dispute loomed large at the meeting in Port Moresby, as Vice President Mike Pence and President Xi Jinping spoke ill of each other in their back-to-back speeches Saturday.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the issue of World Trade Organization reforms was the main cause of disagreement among leaders. Nations have been calling for changes to dispute settlement at the WTO, among other things, while the Trump administration has threatened to pull out of the group if it doesn’t treat the U.S. more fairly.

The disagreement among APEC leaders wasn’t “only the U.S. and China,” O’Neill said told a scrum of reporters, who followed him out of the closing news conference after he initially didn’t take questions. “There are other members who expressed opinions” about WTO reforms, he said.

The prime minister said an APEC statement would be released a later.

The tensions reportedly boiled over as Papua New Guinea tried to draft the communique. The Agence France-Presse news agency said Chinese officials attempted to “barge” into the office of the country’s foreign minister to influence the document. Chinese officials denied the report, which said police had to be called.

"The incident that you mentioned is a rumor spread by some people with a hidden agenda," said Wang Xiaolong, director-general of the Department of International Economic Affairs at China’s foreign ministry.

In his speech, Xi said implementing tariffs and breaking up supply chains was “shortsighted” and “doomed to failure.” He called for a stronger WTO and defended his signature Belt-and-Road initiative, saying it’s “not a trap as some people have labeled it.”

Pence warned nations against taking Chinese loans, saying the U.S. “doesn’t drown our partners in a sea of debt” nor offer “a constricting belt or a one-way road.”

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©2018 Bloomberg News

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