BEIJING – A major Asia-Pacific summit’s failure to agree on a communique resulted from certain countries “excusing” protectionism, a top Chinese diplomat said, in a veiled criticism of Washington that further sours the tone of China-US ties ahead of a G-20 meet.
After months of bickering over a damaging trade war, the disputed South China Sea and US support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan, the two nations’ presidents took a step back from the edge with an ice-breaking telephone call early this month.
While both US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed optimism about resolving their trade war ahead of a planned meeting at the G-20 meeting in Argentina at the end of next week, relations have since faltered again.
The weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Port Moresby was one of open disagreement, topped by disputes between the US and China over trade, security and which would be the better investment partner for the region.
For the first time, the gathered leaders failed to agree to a joint communique, against the backdrop of the bitter trade war.
The inability to reach a communique was “by no means accidental,” the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in comments on the foreign ministry’s website late on Monday (Nov 19).
“It is mainly that individual economies insisted on imposing their own texts on other parties, excusing protectionism and unilateralism, and not accepting reasonable revisions from the Chinese and other parties,” the ministry cited Wang as saying, without naming any country, in an oblique reference to the United States.
“This practice caused dissatisfaction among many economies, including China, and it is obviously not in line with the consensus principle adhered to by Apec.” Consensus is where the value lies in Apec, Wang added. “It is in the joint interests of all parties and cannot be ignored and abandoned.”
The United States, meanwhile, sought to cast the blame for the lack of a communique elsewhere. “The United States was proud and fully prepared to join consensus on the draft Apec statements, agreeing to promote free and fair trade in the region and to combat unfair trade practices,” the US State Department said in a statement on Monday.
“It is unfortunate that not all economies – despite their rhetoric – could support these positions,” it said, without mentioning China by name.
On Monday, China’s foreign ministry said the United States, whose delegation at the summit was led by Vice President Mike Pence, attended Apec in a “blaze of anger”, and that China had not gone to “get into a boxing ring”.
Pence said the US would not back down from the trade dispute, and might even double tariffs, unless Beijing bowed to US demands.
“PAYING LIP SERVICE”
China took a dig on Monday at Pence’s pledge of US$60 billion in development financing for what the Trump administration calls the Indo-Pacific region, a promise widely seen as Washington’s answer to Xi’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure plan.
“We take note that some voices worry whether the United States can make good on its promises and whether they’re just paying lip service,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, in reply to a question. “We hope these worries don’t come to pass.”
The trade spat between China and the US, the world’s two largest economies, has dragged down financial markets, with world stocks falling on Monday partly due to the persistent tension.
In one bright spot, however, Walt Disney on Monday received unconditional approval from China for its deal to buy Twenty-First Century Fox’s entertainment assets, clearing one of the last major hurdles it faced.
Trump has imposed tariffs on US$250 billion (S$343 billion) worth of Chinese imports to force concessions on a list of demands that would change the two countries’ terms of trade. China has responded with import tariffs on US goods.
Washington wants Beijing to improve market access and intellectual property protections for US companies, cut industrial subsidies and reduce a US$375-billion trade gap.
Last week, Reuters reported that China had delivered a written response to US demands for wide-ranging trade reforms, though a senior Trump administration official said it was unlikely to bring a breakthrough during the two leaders’ talks.
It appeared Trump and Xi had indicated to senior advisers that they wanted to flesh out a deal, Craig Allen, the president of the US-China Business Council, told Reuters this month.
“This could be the basis for a ceasefire, a halt to new tariffs, and an opportunity for new negotiations,” Allen said of the planned G-20 meeting. “But I don’t think it’s a guaranteed slam dunk.”