Chinese President Xi Jinping held informal talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama here today in a bid to iron out differences between the world’s top two economies even as China won support for its “historic” Asia-Pacific trade plan despite American opposition.
Making a difficult trip to China, soon after the poll reversal at home where the Republicans won majority in the Congress, Obama took a leisurely walk with Xi at the well- fortified Zhongnanhai, the home of China’s top leaders, looking to strike a less confrontational relationship.
Obama who is here on a three-day visit to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is due to hold formal talks with Xi tomorrow.
Hours before the Xi-Obama meeting, top world leaders at the APEC summit today agreed to work towards possible adoption of a “historic” free-trade deal proposed by China, in a victory for the Communist giant as it strives for a bigger role in formulating global trade policy.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) members’ endorsement of a roadmap for promoting the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) process was “a decision to be written into history books”, Xi said here while wrapping up the two-day jamboree of the 21-member APEC summit held with an opulent display of Chinese hospitality.
The move was “a historic step we took in the direction towards realising the FTAAP,” marking the official launch of the FTAAP process and demonstrating the confidence and determination of the APEC in advancing regional economic integration, Xi said at a press conference after the conclusion of the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting.
The FTAAP would build on other initiatives including the smaller US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but China’s firm push for its plan over US President Barack Obama’s TPP proposal has added to Sino-US trade rivalry.
The summit was virtually deadlocked over US-China differences on different free trade area arrangements.
While Xi pushed hard for Free-Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), Obama stuck to Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which US is firming with 12 countries excluding China.
The US wants a TPP with very high standards to make China go for more economic reforms to meet the eligibility criteria to join it.
China, the world’s top exporter, hit back saying that FTAAP is more inclusive and serves the interests of all countries in the region.
The APEC summit endorsed a road map to study the FTAAP, which Chinese officials say will firmly keep it on the table of the influential bloc dominated by US and its allies.
The “endorsement” of a roadmap for promoting FTAAP process was “a decision to be written into history books”, Xi said.
The move was “a historic step we took in the direction towards realising the FTAAP,” marking the official launch of the FTAAP process and demonstrating the confidence and determination of the APEC in advancing regional economic integration, said Xi, who is also General
Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
The decision will bring the integration to a new and higher level, benefit economies at various development stages across the Pacific Ocean and inject new energy into the growth of the region and APEC members, he said.
“We have reached consensus that regional economic integration is the driving force behind sustained strong growth in the Asia-Pacific, and APEC should continue to play a leading and coordinating role in pushing forward this process,” he noted.
China virtually seized the initiative by announcing a USD-40 billion fund for its new Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road initiatives which caught the attention of a host of small countries in Asia and the APEC region.
Together with the China-floated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), for which India and 20 countries signed up with USD 50 billion subscribed capital and the BRICS Bank with USD 50 billion capital, it has firmly put China on a high pedestal in the region.
Xi made repeated references to his silk road plans and that of the AIIB during his speeches at the summit virtually making them a central theme of the meeting.
A declaration released after the economic leaders’ meeting said APEC members have decided to kick off and advance the FTAAP process “in a comprehensive and systematic manner”.
The members have agreed to launch “a collective strategic study” on the FTAAP and instruct officials to undertake the study, consult stakeholders and report the result by the end of 2016, it said.
It also noted the FTAAP will be realised on the basis of the conclusion of the ongoing pathways, which include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Both TPP and RCEP are regional free trade arrangements under negotiation but each of them involves only some of the region’s economies, while talks on both arrangements have been stalled by divisions among the negotiators.