WELLINGTON, New Zealand — U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will have a rare virtual encounter this week as they gather online with other Pacific Rim leaders to chart a path to recovery out of the crisis brought on by the pandemic, according to AP.
New Zealand is hosting this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which culminates in a leader’s meeting on Saturday. Continued outbreaks of the coronavirus and related travel restrictions have confined the meeting to the virtual realm for a second straight year.
As usual, the 21 APEC members will be seeking areas where members can cooperate on easing barriers to trade and economic growth instead of trying to settle longstanding feuds.
The focus will be on “charting a path to recovery out of this once-in-a-century crisis,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, host of the leader’s meeting, said in a statement.
In all, APEC members account for nearly 3 billion people and about 60% of the world’s GDP. They span the Pacific rim, from Chile to Russia to Thailand to Australia.
Officials say they’ve made significant progress during some 340 preliminary meetings. APEC members have agreed to reduce or eliminate many tariffs and border holdups on vaccines, masks and other medical products important to fighting the coronavirus, said Vangelis Vitalis, chair of the Senior Officials’ Meeting.
But big power frictions are the inevitable backdrop for the closed door summit meetings of APEC, which as an economic forum includes both Hong Kong and Taiwan in addition to communist-ruled mainland China.
Both Taiwan and China have put in applications to join a Pacific Rim trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Beijing saying it will block Taiwan’s bid on the basis that the democratically governed island refuses to accept that it’s part of China.
Stephen Hoadley, an associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, said Biden will be looking to reverse the course set by predecessor Donald Trump, who spurned regional trade deals with his America First foreign policy approach.
Since Biden has taken office, Washington has shifted back to a more internationalist approach to trade liberalization, supporting global and regional efforts such as the rules-making World Trade Organization.
However, Biden has kept most trade, technology and investment restrictions that Trump imposed on Chinese exports and companies in place while also moving to counter Beijing’s sway in the region.
One such effort is a recent new defense agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. that raised eyebrows because it did not include New Zealand or other U.S. allies. The development of nuclear submarines is a major part of the new defense arrangement, and New Zealand has a longstanding nuclear-free policy.