Inaugurating APEC, Xi urges faster talks on China-backed free trade area

Wednesday, 12 November 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The global economic recovery is unstable and nations in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc should speed up free trade talks to spur growth, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday. Speaking at the start of a summit of APEC leaders, Xi urged the meeting to speed up talks on a trade liberalisation framework called the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP,) that is being pushed by Beijing. “Currently, the global economic recovery still faces many unstable and uncertain factors. Facing the new situation, we should further promote regional economic integration and create a pattern of opening up that is conducive to long-term development,” Xi said. “We should vigorously promote the Asia-Pacific free trade zone, setting the goal, direction and roadmap and turn the vision into reality as soon as possible.” Some see a proposed study on the FTAAP plan, which will be presented to APEC leaders for approval, as a way to divert attention from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement being pushed by the United States. China is not part of the TPP, which seeks to establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile and Japan, encompassing about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy. China has not been enthusiastic about the TPP, fearing that it is being used by Washington as a way to either force it to open markets by signing up or else isolate it from other regional economies as trade is diverted to TPP signatories. The TPP is widely seen as the economic backbone of US President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, what some experts view as an attempt to balance China’s rise by establishing a larger US presence in the region, including military assets. Xi was quoted by state news agency Xinhua on Monday as saying that FTAAP “does not go against existing free trade arrangements which are potential pathways to realise FTAAP’s goals”. He said APEC’s 21 economies should play a leading and coordinating role, break all sorts of shackles and usher in a new round of opening up, communication and integration. To that end, China will contribute $10 million to support the APEC mechanism, for capacity building and to “carry out pragmatic cooperation in various fields. APEC, which includes the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada, groups countries which account for 40% of the world’s population, 54% of its economic output and 44% of trade.

 Obama and Putin are odd couple at Beijing summit

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attend a family photo shoot for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014. REUTERS     Reuters: A couple of brief encounters between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin during an Asia-Pacific summit in China on Tuesday spoke volumes about the chilly state of relations between the United States and Russia. With the two men crossing paths twice this week, first in Beijing and later at a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, there was little chance they could avoid interacting on the international stage – and with the eyes of the world press and fellow leaders upon them. Obama and Putin have never had anything close to personal chemistry, and with tensions high especially over Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine, there was little warmth on display in their informal contacts at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. When the summit opened in a sprawling convention center at a lake outside Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping walked in with Obama and Putin, both unsmiling, on either side of him. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Putin was overheard saying in English in Obama’s general direction, referring to the ornate conference room. “Yes,” Obama replied, coldly, according to journalists who witnessed the scene. The three leaders stopped at Xi’s seat at the table. Putin reached out and clapped Obama on the shoulder. Obama barely responded. The two then took their seat to Xi’s left and right. Later, Obama and Putin were spotted in businesslike conversation, trailed by a translator, as they entered a hall for the summit “family photo”. The two had already spoken briefly on the sidelines of APEC at Monday night’s welcoming events, with officials on both sides saying they did not delve into issues that divide them. “They spoke briefly several times today,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. A US official confirmed that discussions had taken place but, like Peskov, offered no details. The two leaders would seem to have much to discuss but little chance of finding common ground. In addition to Ukraine, they are deeply at odds over Russia’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Communicating mostly by telephone over the past year, their contacts have been described as frustratingly tense as relations between Washington and Moscow have fallen to a post-Cold War low. Obama has insisted that Russia stop supporting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine while Putin has dismissed the sanctions that the United States and the European Union have slapped on Moscow as counterproductive. Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that any encounter would be a chance for Obama to remind the Russian leader of his promise to help resolve the Ukraine crisis peacefully. “President Putin knows full well where we stand,” Rhodes said. The two leaders last held brief informal talks on the sidelines of D-Day anniversary celebrations in Normandy, France in June. The senior US official said there were still no plans for formal face-to-face talks between Obama and Putin at APEC or the G20 summit later this week in Brisbane. Meanwhile, scrutinising body language between the two has become something of a pastime in diplomatic circles. The contrast in their personal styles, Putin brash and macho, Obama detached and professorial, was also on display at APEC. At a tree-planting ceremony at the summit venue, Putin swaggered up, chest out, and shoveled his pile of dirt. Obama walked up with his hands clasped behind his back, picked up the shovel, grinning slightly, and piled mud on his tree, according to a pool report of the event.