BANGKOK (AP) – Leaders from the Asia-Pacific region called for an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine and pledged to lead the regional economy to sustainable growth as they concluded their summit meetings on Saturday.
Host Thailand has suffered a coup d’état to bridge the gap between the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum by saying a majority of members condemned the war. Russia is an APEC member that, like China, has generally refrained from criticizing Moscow.
The declaration issued by the leaders of APEC acknowledged the different views on the war and said that the forum, which is mainly dedicated to promoting trade and close economic relations, was not the place to resolve such disputes.
But it noted that the conflict and other security issues “could have significant consequences for the global economy.”
The leaders’ statement said the majority of members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine, stressing that it is causing great human suffering and inflation, supply problems, food insecurity and financial risks.
As a statement issued by the Group of 20 leading economies in Bali, Indonesia, earlier this week, reiterated the words of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on March 2 that “strongly condemns the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands. Its complete and unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory.”
Saturday’s meetings wrapped up a flurry of events in Southeast Asian countries this week and gave leaders opportunities for face-to-face talks that have been rare in the past two years of pandemic protection.
Much of the work at those conferences takes place on the sidelines and interventions before and after formal meetings.
US Vice President Kamala Harris and the Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke briefly on Saturday before the start of the final APEC meeting. Harris reiterated President Joe Biden’s call, made in a meeting with Xi at the G-20, for both sides to keep lines of communication open.
Xi said he views his talks with Biden as a step to the “next level” in relations between the two major economies, according to a Chinese government summary of the meeting.
Relations have deteriorated recently amid disagreements over trade and technology, China’s claims to the separately-administered island of Taiwan, human rights and other issues. But Harris told Xi that the US “does not want to face war or conflict with China.”
He received a “handover” in the form of a symbolic bamboo “chalom” basket from the host of APEC, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. The US will host next year’s APEC summit in San Francisco, with preliminary meetings to be held in other cities throughout the year.
Although summit meetings are often interrupted by other pressing concerns, APEC’s long-term mission is to promote closer economic ties, and Prayuth opened Saturday’s meeting by urging leaders to advance APEC’s agenda of free trade in the Pacific region.
“We need to prioritize turning this plan into action,” he said.
Security risks are not on APEC’s official agenda, but Prayuth said North Korea’s missile launch was widely discussed and “everyone shares concerns about this issue.”
On Friday, Harris and the leaders of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea met separately to air concerns about the North’s launch. Earlier in the day an intercontinental ballistic missile landed near the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Both at APEC in Thailand and at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia, officials seem to have chosen to acknowledge their disagreements about the war in Ukraine while expressing grief over its deep impact. In both Bangkok and Bali, countries that have refused to condemn the attack have stopped to prevent the release of statements strongly critical of Moscow.
APEC members account for four out of 10 people and almost half of world trade. Much of APEC’s technical and extension work, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covers areas such as trade, forestry, health, food, security, small and medium enterprises and women’s empowerment.
The announcement of the leaders was released on Saturday he also called for promoting greater use of clean energy and safe, environmentally sustainable food systems, among a range of goals that also address illegal, unregulated and unlicensed fishing, illegal logging, marine litter, improved public health and better access to vaccinations.
Other APEC members include Brunei, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was to represent the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but did not attend after contracting COVID-19..
The conference venue, in Bangkok’s main convention center near a large park, was cordoned off with some streets closed to the public. Protest police patrolled the barricades at intersections to keep protesters at bay.
On Friday, the police clashed in another area of Bangkok with demonstrators who took advantage of the APEC meeting to revive calls for democratic reform in Thailand and accused the government of promoting policies in APEC that favor big business over ordinary people. Several people were injured and a number of people were arrested.
Associated Press reporters Elaine Kurtenbach, Tian McLeod Ji, Grant Peck, Jerry Harmer and Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.
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