By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) – A major Asia-Pacific summit’s failure to agree on a communique resulted from certain countries “excusing” protectionism, a top Chinese diplomat said, in a veiled criticism of Washington that further sours the tone of China-U.S. ties ahead of a G20 meet.
After months of bickering over a damaging trade war, the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan, the two nations’ presidents took a step back from the edge with an ice-breaking telephone call early this month.
While both U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed optimism about resolving their trade war ahead of a planned meeting at the G20 meeting in Argentina at the end of next week, relations have since faltered again.The weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Port Moresby was one of open disagreement, topped by disputes between the U.S. and China over trade, security and which would be the better investment partner for the region.
For the first time, the gathered leaders failed to agree to a joint communique, against the backdrop of the bitter trade war.
The inability to reach a communique was “by no means accidental,” the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in comments on the foreign ministry’s website late on Monday.
“It is mainly that individual economies insisted on imposing their own texts on other parties, excusing protectionism and unilateralism, and not accepting reasonable revisions from the Chinese and other parties,” the ministry cited Wang as saying, without naming any country, in an oblique reference to the United States.
“This practice caused dissatisfaction among many economies, including China, and it is obviously not in line with the consensus principle adhered to by APEC.”
Consensus is where the value lies in APEC, Wang added.
“It is in the joint interests of all parties and cannot be ignored and abandoned.”
On Monday, China’s foreign ministry said the United States, whose delegation at the summit was led by Vice President Mike Pence, attended APEC in a “blaze of anger”, and that China had not gone to “get into a boxing ring”.
Pence said the United States would not back down from the trade dispute, and might even double tariffs, unless Beijing bowed to U.S. demands.
On Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman added to the criticism of the failure to sign the communique.
“An individual member” of APEC would not heed other members and insisted on trying to add content “harming other countries’ basic interests”, trying to “put on a coat of legitimacy to its protectionist, unilateralist ways”, Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.
China also took a dig on Monday at Pence’s pledge of development financing of $60 billion for what the Trump administration calls the Indo-Pacific region, a promise widely seen as Washington’s answer to Xi’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure plan.
“We take note that some voices worry whether the United States can make good on its promises and whether they’re just paying lip service,” Geng said, in reply to a question.
“We hope these worries don’t come to pass.”
The trade spat between China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, has dragged down financial markets, with world stocks falling on Monday partly due to the persistent tension.
In one bright spot, however, Walt Disney Co on Monday received unconditional approval from China for its deal to buy Twenty-First Century Fox’s entertainment assets, clearing one of the last major hurdles it faced.
Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to force concessions on a list of demands that would change the two countries’ terms of trade. China has responded with import tariffs on U.S. goods.
Washington wants Beijing to improve market access and intellectual property protections for U.S. companies, cut industrial subsidies and reduce a $375-billion trade gap.
Last week, Reuters reported that China had delivered a written response to U.S. demands for wide-ranging trade reforms, though a senior Trump administration official said it was unlikely to bring a breakthrough during the two leaders’ talks.
It appeared Trump and Xi had indicated to senior advisers that they wanted to flesh out a deal, Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, told Reuters this month.
“This could be the basis for a ceasefire, a halt to new tariffs, and an opportunity for new negotiations,” Allen said of the planned G20 meeting. “But I don’t think it’s a guaranteed slam dunk.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)