Xi warns of 'Cold War-era' tensions in Asia-Pacific

WELLINGTON • The Asia-Pacific region must not return to the tensions of the Cold War era, Chinese President Xi Jinping said yesterday, ahead of a virtual meeting with United States President Joe Biden expected as soon as next week.

In a recorded video message to a CEO forum on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit hosted by New Zealand, Mr Xi said attempts to draw ideological lines or form small circles on geopolitical grounds were bound to fail. "The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era," Mr Xi said.

His remarks were an apparent reference to US efforts with regional allies and partners, including the Quad grouping with Australia, India and Japan, to blunt what they see as China's growing coercive economic and military influence.

On Tuesday, China's military said it conducted a combat-readiness patrol in the direction of the Taiwan Strait, after its Defence Ministry condemned a visit by a US congressional delegation to Taiwan, which China sees as a renegade province.

Combative US diplomatic exchanges with China early in the Biden administration unnerved allies, and US officials believe direct engagement with Mr Xi is the best way to prevent the relationship between the world's two biggest economies from spiralling towards conflict.

A date has not been announced for the Xi-Biden meeting, but a person briefed on the matter said it was expected to be as soon as next week.

The week-long annual forum, culminating in a meeting of leaders from all 21 Apec economies today, is being conducted entirely online by host New Zealand, a country with strict Covid-19 pandemic control measures that has kept its borders closed to almost all travellers for 18 months.

Mr Xi has not left China in about 21 months as the country pursues a zero-tolerance policy towards Covid-19.

The Chinese leader said emerging from the shadow of the pandemic and achieving steady economic recovery were the most pressing tasks for the region, and that countries must close the Covid-19 immunisation gap.

"We should translate the consensus that vaccines are a global public good into concrete actions to ensure their fair and equitable distribution," Mr Xi said.

Apec members pledged at a special meeting in June to expand sharing and manufacturing of Covid-19 vaccines and lift trade barriers for medicines.

Taiwan's bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) regional trade pact is expected to raise tensions at the Apec leaders' meeting.

China, which has also applied to join the 11-member CPTPP, opposes Taiwan's membership and has increased military activities near the island.

The US pulled out of the CPTPP under former president Donald Trump. The trade pact entered into force on Dec 30, 2018, after six parties ratified the agreement.

Another regional trade pact, the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), will take effect from Jan 1. Signed in November last year, the RCEP is a mega trade deal between the 10 Asean member states, plus China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

Mr Xi said in the lead-up to RCEP implementation and CPTPP negotiations that China would "shorten the negative list on foreign investment, promote all-round opening up of its agricultural and manufacturing sectors, expand the opening of the service sector and treat domestic and foreign businesses as equals in accordance with law".

The US has offered to host Apec in 2023 for the first time in over a decade as President Joe Biden turns resources and attention to the Asia-Pacific following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in August.

However, no consensus has been reached yet among Apec members on the offer.

Climate change has also been a key item on the agenda at the Apec summit, which is taking place in parallel with the United Nations' COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow.

Mr Xi said China would achieve its carbon neutrality targets within the timeframe it has set, and its carbon reduction action would require massive investment.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in her opening address that Apec had taken steps to wean the region's industries off fossil-fuel subsidies.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2021, with the headline Xi warns of 'Cold War-era' tensions in Asia-Pacific. Subscribe