Attempts to “form small circles on geopolitical grounds” in the Asia-Pacific are bound to fail, China’s leader has warned in a speech to an APEC summit hosted by New Zealand

Chinese President Xi Jinping has warned New Zealand and other Asia-Pacific countries against “relapsing into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era”, in a thinly-veiled critique of the Aukus alliance and other efforts to counter Chinese influence in the region.

In a pre-recorded speech to the APEC CEO Summit, taking place ahead of the final leaders’ meeting which will end New Zealand’s host year, Xi said sustained development in the Asia-Pacific region had been possible “because we have endeavoured to create an open economic architecture and forge an Asia-Pacific partnership based on mutual trust, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation”.

APEC economies should focus on trade and investment liberalisation and shoring up supply chains while “rejecting practices of discrimination and exclusion of others”, he said.

“Attempts to draw ideological lines or form small circles on geopolitical grounds are bound to fail.

“The Asia-Pacific region cannot and should not relapse into the confrontation and division of the Cold War era.”

Chinese representatives have been openly critical of Aukus, the recently announced trilateral security pact between the United States, United Kingdom and Australia largely seen as a bid to guard against China’s growing economic and military power.

Xi also spoke about the country’s bid to join the CPTPP trade deal, saying the country was “committed to building a high-standard market system” and would continue reforms to open up its agriculture and manufacturing sectors, among other areas.

“We treat all types of market entities on an equal basis, and we are working to develop a unified, open, competitive and orderly market system.”

China would continue to practise “true multilateralism” and uphold a system centred on the World Trade Organisation, he said.

However, Australia and other countries have accused the country of economic coercion, with heavy tariffs imposed on some Australian exports following a diplomatic spat between Canberra and Beijing.

Xi also called for greater cooperation on the Covid-19 response, including on treatments, medicines, research and the mutual recognition of vaccines, while he said China supported a “science-based response to climate change” and wanted the world to deliver on what was agreed in the Paris climate deal.

Ardern: APEC region ‘defied history’

Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the summit by saying the Covid crisis presented not just a heavy burden, “but also an opportunity to strike an economic reset on a scale we haven’t seen since World War II”.

Ardern said the region’s digital transformation had accelerated due to the pandemic but needed to grow further, while greater inclusion of different communities was also important.

She cited a McKinsey estimate that global GDP would be US$13 trillion higher in 2030 if business and government took action on gender parity in the workplace alone, saying: “That is like adding an economy the size of China to our global economic weight.”

Ardern also praised APEC’s rejection of protectionism during the crisis, saying the region had “defied history by avoiding the scourge of beggar-thy-neighbour trade policies that choke off trade and drive poverty by reducing economic activity, growth and employment across all our economies”.

“In fact the reverse is true. This year, all APEC economies have worked to make trade easier as we battle the pandemic.”

Several other APEC leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, are due to address the CEO Summit over Thursday and Friday.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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