BEIJING (AFP) - Asia-Pacific leaders gather on Tuesday for the climax of their annual summit with region-wide free trade the key focus as they try to narrow differing views on how to achieve it.
US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who helm the world's three biggest economies, are among the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum.
China wants the 21-member Apec meeting to endorse a stronger commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) idea, a longer-term concept for the entire region that would build on other free-trade initiatives including the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The US has long pushed TPP, which aims for a loosening of trade restrictions, but so far excludes China while embracing 11 other Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Australia and Mexico.
Some Chinese analysts and state media have framed the TPP as an attempt to check Beijing's growing economic clout, allegations Washington dismisses.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meanwhile, champions the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which would bring together Asean and six countries with which it has FTAs, including China, Japan and India.
Apec accounts for more than 50 per cent of global gross domestic product, nearly half of world trade and 40 per cent of the Earth's population.
Set up 25 years ago, it has long pushed free trade among its members, who have separately pursued bilateral and multilateral deals with other economies both inside and outside the organisation.
Apec summits combine group meetings with a chance for leaders to meet on the sidelines in one-to-one bilateral sessions to discuss issues that affect their direct relations.
Mr Xi and Mr Abe on Monday held the first summit between Chinese and Japanese leaders since December 2011 as they seek to repair relations soured by disputes over territory and World War II history.
But Apec, a consensus-based grouping that has over the years sometimes been criticised as an expensive talking shop, also combines serious policy discussions with pomp and colour.
At Monday's formal dinner that kicked off the summit, the hosts rolled out a gleaming red carpet for the leaders who arrived decked out in sleek, high-collared tunics, with hundreds of wildly cheering dancers dressed in the costumes of China's dozens of ethnic minorities outside the venue.
On Tuesday the summit venue moves from Beijing to a scenic lake outside the Chinese capital.
Despite its tendency to paper over differences, Apec's diversity masks the great power rivalries at play inside it.
Mr Xi offered the world a vision of a Chinese-driven "Asia-Pacific dream" on Sunday in a speech to Apec business leaders, while Mr Obama, speaking to the same audience on Monday, stressed US global leadership, calling his country a "thoroughly Pacific nation".