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High-level APEC conference addresses economic challenges amidst US-China tensions

APEC Summit in San Francisco navigates economic challenges amid rising US-China tensions. Key focus on Biden-Xi meeting amidst global turmoil.



The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a coalition of 21 member countries, is currently convening its High-Level Conference in San Francisco this week, starting from 15 to 17 November 2023.

Established in 1989 with 12 initial members, APEC has evolved to include major global players such as China, Russia, Japan, the United States, and Australia. Together, these nations represent nearly 40% of the global population and almost half of the world’s trade.

The primary focus of APEC is to promote trade, investment, and economic development among countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Unlike forums influenced by military affairs, APEC strictly centers around economic matters, utilizing an “economic” membership power structure rather than a national one.

Amid discussions on enhancing economic strategies, trade, and regional economic growth, the spotlight of this conference shifts to the sideline meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders have not engaged in direct talks since their encounter last November at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Since then, various incidents have heightened tensions between the superpowers.

The Biden administration shot down a Chinese spy balloon traversing the Americas earlier this year, and China is suspected of hacking the email of US Trade Secretary Gina Raimondo. Additionally, the US has restricted the export of advanced computer chips to China and sought to provide development aid to other countries countering China’s influence.

The escalating situation is further exacerbated by Russia’s actions in Ukraine and China’s increasing assertiveness in the Taiwan Strait.

Despite recent efforts by US and Chinese representatives to ease tensions, the Biden-Xi meeting is not expected to significantly alter the course of US-China relations.

This year’s conference takes place against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between China and the United States, as well as global unrest due to the Israel-Hamas conflict and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House staff stated that the goal of this APEC conference is to make the APEC economy more resilient, particularly in the face of rising climate issues and the global pandemic’s impact, which has claimed millions of lives and burdened supply chains.

The US strategy has long been focused on economic competition with China rather than cooperation, although US leaders continue to emphasize the importance of collaboration. President Biden is actively seeking partnerships with other regional countries to develop alternatives to manufacturing imports from China.

The APEC conference has faced challenges and dramatic moments in recent years. The forum met virtually in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although leaders gathered in Bangkok, Thailand, last year, Biden missed the meeting as his granddaughter was getting married, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing him. This decision was considered a slight by some APEC leaders.

In a subsequent incident, the US delegation and four other countries walked out to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when Russian representatives began speaking at the conference.

Chile withdrew as the host of APEC in 2019 due to mass protests. Last year, during the Bangkok summit hosted by Thailand, pro-democracy protesters challenged the legitimacy of Thailand’s Prime Minister, leading to police firing rubber bullets that injured several demonstrators and a Reuters journalist.

This year’s high-level meeting may generate friction related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, as participating countries hold strong views on both conflicting parties.

Typically, at the end of the summit, there is a joint statement from all countries, but this is unlikely this year due to divergent perspectives.

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