KUALA LUMPUR • A virtual summit of Asia-Pacific leaders started yesterday with US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in attendance to discuss the coronavirus crisis and global economic recovery, amid lingering trade differences.
The pair joined a meeting of the leaders of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) grouping hosted virtually by Malaysia, just two weeks after Mr Trump lost his re-election bid.
Apec members account for about 60 per cent of global gross domestic product.
Asia-Pacific leaders have called for more open and multilateral trade to support economic recovery and warned against protectionist trade policies, with President Xi saying that unilateralism has added to global economic risks.
At the last Apec summit in 2018, member countries failed to agree on a joint communique for the first time in the bloc's history as the United States and China disagreed on trade and investments.
Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese products, which launched a trade war between the world's two largest economies.
In opening remarks at the leaders' meeting, Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the chair of Apec 2020, said the bloc's top priority should be to reaffirm its support and commitment for a rules-based multilateral trading system.
"This is essential for our businesses as market stability and predictability are the central pillars which ensure that trade and investment continue to flow, even during times of crisis," said Tan Sri Muhyiddin.
Other leaders who joined the virtual meeting included Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
In the run-up to yesterday's meeting, several Apec leaders warned against protectionism as the world grapples with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"As we confront this generation's biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism," Ms Ardern said yesterday, speaking at the Apec CEO Dialogues.
"Apec must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing."
Other Asia-Pacific leaders have also expressed hope that the incoming US administration of Mr Joe Biden will engage more and support multilateral trade.
Mr Trump pulled the US out of the original 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in early 2017.
The US is also absent from the world's largest free trade bloc, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership - a 15-nation pact which includes China that was signed on Sunday.
The Trump administration has been criticised for a lower level of engagement in Asia. The only time he has joined an Apec summit - held annually - was in 2017.
Last year's summit in Chile was cancelled due to violent protests.
Mr Trump also missed two virtual Asia meetings last week: The 10-member Asean summit and the broader East Asia Summit.
Other than working on a joint communique, the Apec leaders are expected to discuss the bloc's post-2020 vision, which would replace the 1994 Bogor Goals - a set of targets on reducing barriers to trade and investment - that expires this year.
Mr Xi gave a keynote address to the forum on Thursday, hailing China as a pivot point for global commerce and vowing to keep its supersized economy open.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE