War, North Korea missile tests loom over Asia-Pacific summit
Bangkok: Threats to peace and stability burst onto the agenda at a summit of Pacific Rim leaders Friday in Bangkok after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed near Japanese territorial waters.
The missile test was a stark reminder of persisting risks of conflict in the region and beyond, on top of frictions between the big powers that threaten to unravel the global order.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and New Zealand convened an emergency meeting on the missile launch.
“This conduct by North Korea most recently is a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security resolutions. It destabilizes security in the region, and unnecessarily raises tensions,” Harris said, according to a draft transcript of her remarks.
“We strongly condemn these actions and we again call for North Korea to stop further unlawful, destabilizing acts,” she said.
North Korea is under United Nations sanctions for past weapons displays but has not faced fresh sanctions this year because U.S. attempts were opposed by China and Russia in the Security Council.
A Thai government spokesperson said leaders also expressed concern about the missile in Friday morning’s closed-door meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
The 21-member APEC’s long-term mission is promoting closer economic ties but its summits often are sidetracked by other, more urgent issues.
“Geopolitical tensions are detracting from peace and stability and undermining the rules-based international order, which we all agree are essential,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the opening session of the meeting.
“The circumstances we face today as economic leaders, multiple overlapping global crises, could not be more pressing as they inundate our region,” Albanese said.
At the meeting, leaders appealed for an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine and considered strategies for nursing along economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic while contending with food and energy crises, the need to cut the carbon emissions that cause climate change and other urgent tasks.
At a business conference on the sidelines of APEC, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an end to confrontation, both in Ukraine and also in Asia, where he said friction between the biggest economies, the U.S. and China, was forcing countries to take sides.
“There is no stability or peace except one based on international order and respect,” said Macron, who was invited to the APEC summit as a guest by the host country, Thailand.
The rise of Asia to become an engine for global growth owes its success to trade “governed by common rules, global rules,” Macron said, saying multiple crises may have taken the world to a “tipping point.”
In her remarks to the business conference, Harris assured Asian leaders “the United States is here to stay” as she pitched Washington as a reliable economic partner committed to the region and its prosperity.
“And there is no better economic partner for this region than the United States of America,” Harris said.
The APEC gathering is the third back-to-back meeting of world leaders this week after the summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last week in Cambodia and the Group of 20 leading economies, which wrapped up Wednesday in Indonesia.
As host, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has sought to embed the concept of sustainability into APEC’s agenda.
“We need to change our ways of life and ways of doing business,” Prayuth said in opening the leaders’ meeting on Friday focused on sustainable economic growth.
It was unclear if Thailand would manage to produce a final joint statement at the summit’s end. APEC, whose members include Russia and China, generally operates on the basis of consensus. None of the earlier preparatory meetings this year issued statements due to disagreements over whether to mention the conflict in Ukraine.
However, leaders of the Group of 20 did manage a show of unity when China and India, after months of refusing to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine, did not block the release of a statement that harshly criticized Moscow.
With both U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin absent, Chinese President Xi Jinping was the star attendee in Bangkok.
Speaking Thursday to the business conference, which was largely closed to media apart from outlets sponsoring the event, Xi warned against a “new Cold War” and attempts to dismantle supply chains built over decades.
He called for strengthened cooperation and progress in achieving APEC’s vision of an open Asia-Pacific economy.
APEC members account for nearly four of every 10 people and almost half of world trade. Much of APEC’s work is technical and incremental, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covering areas such as trade, forestry, health, food, security, small and medium-size enterprises and women’s empowerment.
Other APEC members include Brunei, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Apart from the French president, Thailand also invited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of Saudi Arabia; and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was to represent ASEAN but is not attending after getting COVID-19.
The summit venue, at Bangkok’s main convention center, was cordoned off with some streets closed to traffic. Riot police stood guard behind barricades at a major intersection, underscoring Thailand’s determination to ensure no disruptions.
Protesters, who scuffled with police on Thursday and gathered in greater numbers at another area on Friday, were kept well at bay.