Apec achieves breakthrough statement as most members condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine

The Apec statement on Nov 18 said most members strongly condemned Russia's war in Ukraine. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) issued a joint ministerial statement on Friday with a paragraph that condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, creating a breakthrough in a year which saw many multilateral forums deadlocked over their description of the war.

“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy – constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” the 21-member bloc said.

“There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions. Recognising that Apec is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”

Up until Friday afternoon, it was not clear if the joint ministerial statement could be achieved.

The Russia-Ukraine war has deepened hardship in a world trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has led to a surge in food and fuel prices.

It has also sparked division within multilateral organisations such as Apec and G-20 that have Russia as a member.

Russia has refused to describe its invasion of Ukraine as a war, nor does it accept responsibility for the global economic fallout from its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Some countries have also taken a stance aligned to Moscow’s or avoided condemning Russia for the invasion. Together with Russia’s repudiations, this has prevented routine joint statements from being issued after key diplomatic meetings.

Friday’s Apec statement mentioned how member countries reiterated their positions expressed in other forums, including at the United Nations General Assembly, where a resolution in March deploring the invasion and demanding Russian withdrawal from Ukraine was adopted by majority vote.

The language mirrored what was used in the Group of 20 leaders’ statement issued on Wednesday after the two-day summit in Bali.

At the ongoing Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok, Russia is being represented by its First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took part in the G-20 meeting.

Crediting Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai for stewarding the difficult negotiations, senior Thai Foreign Ministry official Cherdchai Chaivaivid told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of the Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting that lessons taken from the G-20 process helped move discussions at Apec along.

“We had witnessed a really good momentum… from the G-20 process. And that set us on course for more or less the same direction in expressing a common statement collectively, on behalf of our economies.”

While stressing that the statement may not change anything in this conflict, he said that it had been no easy task to get all members on board in this “extraordinary” year.

Mr Cherdchai also said he was “cautiously positive” that a joint Apec leaders’ statement – a routine declaration under usual circumstances – could be achieved by the end of the summit on Saturday.

Discussions among Apec leaders began on Friday morning, with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urging member economies to strengthen and keep supply chains open. While economies have a growing desire to keep production chains within their borders, “no economy has any hope of being entirely self-sufficient”, he said.

Deeper collaboration and inclusive, sustainable growth were also core themes raised by other leaders present, including US Vice-President Kamala Harris and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

French President Emmanuel Macron, speaking at the Apec CEO Summit as a special guest, said the Russian invasion of Ukraine has threatened the stability that is needed for sustainable post-pandemic recovery, and said his country was working with others to try to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.

Host countries of intergovernmental meetings such as the Asean, G-20 and Apec summits have faced concerted pressures from member factions over the inclusion of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Indonesia, which hosted the G-20 meetings, had sought to bring both Mr Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the table. The Russian leader eventually skipped the meeting, where Mr Zelensky made a video address.

The summit ended with a declaration that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy”, but also mentioned that there were “different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.

In May, representatives from the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia who were taking part in an Apec meeting in Bangkok walked out in protest when their Russia counterpart was speaking. The meeting ended without a joint ministerial statement.

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