The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting has ended in disarray, with leaders unable to reach consensus on the official communique.
The rising conflict between the US and China, who are currently engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war, played out in the room during the APEC Leaders Meeting in Port Moresby on Sunday afternoon (Sunday evening NZT).
Issues of trade – particularly reform of the World Trade Organisation, along with tariffs, intellectual property and artificial intelligence – are understood to have been the sticking points.
While all 21 leaders agreed on the majority of the leaders’ communique, there were a few paragraphs the US and China would not budge on.
This is the first time a joint communique will not be delivered by the APEC leaders since the practice began.
Instead, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – who is the chair – will issue a chairman’s statement.
The tension meant the meeting ran overtime, with world leaders – including New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – rushing to get to their planes on Sunday afternoon, as the week of regional meetings wrapped up.
Speaking to media in Port Moresby following the leaders’ impasse, O’Neill said there were “two big giants in the room”.
Canada’s Justin Trudeau and O’Neill both told media that the WTO was a particular sticking point. But it was not up to APEC to look at WTO reform, as it did not have that jurisdiction, O’Neill said.
US Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping have used the summit in Port Moresby to trade barbs.
On Saturday, both Pence and Xi made speeches aimed at discrediting each other, and calling into question their motives in the region.
Pence accused China of intellectual property theft, and of offering loans with “opaque” conditions.
Xi hit back at US protectionist trade policies, saying there was a need for international cooperation and trade.
“History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, will produce no winners,” Xi said in his speech in Port Moresby.
China’s spending in Papua New Guinea is glaring, with roads, buildings and bus stops bearing the Chinese Government’s insignia.
These loans, and rising indebtedness in the Pacific, have been an increasing concern over the past year, with the conflict between the two superpowers an overarching theme of APEC, as well as the ASEAN and the East Asia Summit in Singapore earlier in the week.
The US-China trade war has also been a constant theme throughout the week, with the situation coming to a head during Pence and Xi’s speeches on Saturday, followed by the failure to gain consensus on Sunday.
Speaking to New Zealand media in Port Moresby on Saturday, Ardern said it was up to each sovereign nation to decide how it chose to approach other countries.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said New Zealand was in a stronger position in the region because of the US-China conflict.
The unrest and unpredictability meant other countries were looking at New Zealand with a “new set of eyes”, he said.
In an example of one of these new opportunities, on Sunday New Zealand announced a joint Papua New Guinea electrification project with Australia, the US, Japan and Papua New Guinea.
The US$1.7 billion ($2.5b) project is aimed at helping Papua New Guinea achieve its goal of 70 percent access to electricity by 2030. Currently 13 percent of the country has power.
Discussions between APEC leaders will continue, with Xi and US President Donald Trump meeting at the G20 summit later this month.
But APEC has not been the successful regional dialogue many would hope when it comes to the US-China trade issue.