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Apec summit ends with unity on WTO reform but not Gaza or Ukraine

Pacific Rim leaders have shown divisions over the wars in Ukraine and Gaza after a two-day summit of the Apec forum, while pledging support for reform of the World Trade Organization.

The 21 economies that make up the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum – among them Russia, China, the US and Australia – did not mention either conflict in their final joint communique. Instead an accompanying chair’s statement noted the bloc had “exchanged views on the ongoing crisis in Gaza”.

Days of meetings involving Apec ministers and leaders were dominated by a summit on Wednesday between the US president, Joe Biden, and China’s Xi Jinping aimed at cooling tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Apec is largely focused on trade and includes countries as disparate as Muslim-majority Indonesia and the US, Israel’s most important ally.

Biden used the Apec summit in San Francisco to highlight the strong US economy and its ties to other Pacific nations, even as his vision for greater regional cooperation to counter China’s influence stumbled on the trade front over his bid to strengthen workers’ rights.

Talks with Xi Jinping 'some of the most productive discussions we've had', says Biden - video

Talks with Xi Jinping ‘some of the most productive discussions we’ve had’, says Biden – video

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, said the Biden-Xi meeting was a badly needed signal that the world needs to cooperate more and a positive sign for cooperation on global challenges, especially climate change.

Much US-China tension is linked to democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its territory. Taiwan’s Apec envoy, the semiconductor magnate Morris Chang, said on Friday he believed the Biden-Xi summit had been a “good meeting”. He said he had informal interactions with Biden and his vice-president, Kamala Harris, and with Antony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, but not with Xi.

On the Gaza war, an Apec chair’s statement noted the bloc had merely “exchanged views on the ongoing crisis”. The war is Israel’s response to a Hamas terrorist raid from Gaza into Israel on 7 October that left about 1,200 people dead and 240 people taken hostage.

“Some leaders objected to the inclusion of this language in the accompanying 2023 Apec leaders’ Golden Gate Declaration on the basis that they do not believe that Apec is a forum to discuss geopolitical issues,” the chair’s statement said.

“Some leaders also shared the united messages of the joint Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh on 11 November 2023.”

Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia in a joint statement said they were among the Apec members who supported the messages of the Riyadh summit, which had called for an immediate end to military operations in Gaza, rejecting Israel’s justification of its actions against Palestinians as self-defence. The three countries also called for an “immediate, durable and sustained” humanitarian truce, and for the unhindered provision of essential goods and services to civilians in Gaza.

On Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the statement said there had been no accord but “most members strongly condemn” the aggression. “We note with deep concern the adverse impact of the war in Ukraine and stress that it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was not among heads of state at the meeting as he faces an arrest warrant from the international criminal court. Russia instead sent deputy prime minister Alexei Overchuk.

The Apec leaders’ declaration reaffirmed their determination “to deliver a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, inclusive, and predictable trade and investment environment … We are committed to necessary reform of the WTO to improve all of its functions, including conducting discussions with a view to having a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system accessible to all members by 2024.”

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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