In Trump’s absence, China’s Xi to take spotlight at Asia-Pacific trade summit

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Fresh from the success of creating the world’s largest free trade region, China’s President Xi Jinping will be among the speakers on Thursday heralding a Asia-Pacific virtual summit that US President Donald Trump has decided to skip.

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Last week, 15 countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the China-backed accord, which excludes the United States, will loom large over the virtual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) hosted by Malaysia. A dozen of APEC’s 21 members signed up to RCEP.

Trump’s absence follows his defeat in the November 3 US presidential election, though he has yet to concede and begin a transfer of government to President-elect Joe Biden.

The one and only APEC summit Trump attended was hosted by Vietnam in 2017.

The US has yet to name a head of delegation for this summit, though Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun attended an APEC ministerial meeting on Monday.

Malaysian Trade Minister Azmin Ali admitted on Tuesday there were disagreements among member states over the “level of ambition” in pursuing APEC’s vision and approaches on multilateral trade and economic integration.

Azmin expressed optimism that some consensus could be found, but APEC’s recent history has not been encouraging.

Deadly riots forced hosts Chile to cancel last year’s summit. And in 2018, APEC failed to agree on a joint communique, the first time in the bloc’s history, as the United States and China stood at opposing ends of talks on trade and investments.

Xi and other APEC member leaders are set to speak at a chief executives’ conference starting Thursday, ahead of Friday’s summit.

A joint ministerial statement on Monday outlined the need for members to uphold free, fair and non-discriminatory trade practices to drive economic recovery from the pandemic, besides implementing structural reforms to promote sustainable and inclusive growth.

But the proposals will need to reach consensus at Friday’s summit, with some critics questioning the bloc’s relevance.

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