[PHOTO -President Benigno Aquino welcomes Chile President Sebastian Piñera during the bilateral meeting at the sidelines of the 20th APEC Leaders’ Summit in Vladivostok, Russia on Saturday.ñang Photo]

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA SEPTEMBER 10, 2012 (INQUIRER) Asia-Pacific leaders on Saturday called for unity in tackling a raft of economic challenges, as the summit began here amid deep divisions over worsening territorial disputes and other rows.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, host of the 20th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum and leaders’ summit, opened the two-day gathering with a call for a renewed joint commitment to open up regional trade.

“By getting together and lifting barriers, we encourage dynamic development of the entire Asia-Pacific region and the global economy in general. It is important to build bridges, not walls,” Putin told his fellow leaders.

[PHOTO- President Aquino at APEC Summit in Russia]

The 21 members of Apec, which accounts for nearly half of world trade, meet every year to build goodwill in their effort to break down trade barriers, with the bloc’s rules decided by consensus.

But this year’s summit began with Apec giants China, Japan and South Korea embroiled in various territorial disputes that have fanned intense nationalist flames, and with US-China relations also heating up over the West Philippine Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would not hold customary bilateral summit talks with China’s President Hu Jintao nor South Korea’s Lee Myung-Bak because of Japan’s separate territorial disputes with their nations.

Besides the Philippines, Apec member Vietnam has also spoken out strongly against China in the lead-up to the summit.

The Philippines and Vietnam have accused China of a campaign of intimidation to enforce its claims to virtually all of the West Philippine Sea, parts of which they contest.

Speaking at a presummit business forum earlier Saturday, Hu called for all countries to ensure the tensions did not escalate into more serious conflicts.

“To maintain peace and stability as well as sound momentum of economic growth in the Asia Pacific is in the interest of all countries in the region. It is our shared responsibility,” Hu said, while also warning against protectionism.

Trade barriers

Philippine economic officials went into the forum worried that more countries would put up more barriers to trade as world economic growth cools down.

“There were statements during the ministerial discussions that there’s increasing protectionism,” Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo told a news conference on Saturday. “So the ministers said that this is something that member states should really try to avoid doing.”

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines and other Apec members wanted to make sure their partners would not take a protectionist stand in the wake of the euro crisis and the slowdown in big economies like China.

“We are espousing the position that we need to solve the problems that are facing our domestic economies in a way that we will not curtail the expansion of trade,” Balisacan said.

In a joint statement issued after their two-day meeting, the Apec trade ministers said: “We noted with concern the International Monetary Fund’s downward projection for global growth for this and next year and the rise in protectionist instances around the world. These developments increase the urgency of further action to keep markets down.”

[PHOTO -The Russian city of Vladivostok has undergone a $20 billion makeover to host the APEC summit as Russia looks to flex its muscles in Asian market]

US interests

The United States has riled China by calling for a code of conduct for the West Philippine Sea and insisting on freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway. China has also perceived a greater US focus on Asia as an effort to contain it.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, standing in for US President Barack Obama, said Thursday on a presummit swing through the region that Washington was not going to shy away from standing up for American strategic interests.

She emphasized at a business forum on the sidelines of the summit on Saturday that the United States was determined to increase its economic and political footprint in the region.

“After an extended period in which the United States had to focus a great deal of attention and resources on regions and conflicts elsewhere, we are now making substantially increased investments in the Asia Pacific,” she said.

“We seek to work with others to build a stable and just regional order that will benefit everyone,” she said.

Apec leaders have insisted they will still make progress in Vladivostok in opening up economies.

Leaders’ statement

They will jointly call for greater efforts to “support growth and foster financial stability and restore confidence,” according to a draft of a leaders’ statement to be released at the end of the summit and obtained by AFP.

It warns of mounting risks to the region from eurozone crisis in Europe and pledges to work to stoke domestic demand to counter falling exports.

The assembled leaders are also expected to approve a deal reached on Thursday by their trade ministers to cut tariffs on a list of dozens of “green” products in the Asia-Pacific region to boost trade in the goods and help protect the environment. Reports from Gil Cabacungan and AFP

Clinton faced with new rifts at Asia summit Agence France-Presse 12:06 am | Saturday, September 8, 2012


VLADIVOSTOK—US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived late Friday for an Asia-Pacific summit seeking progress in the tense West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but with concerns about frayed ties between Japan and South Korea.

Clinton, filling in for President Barack Obama as he enters the home stretch of his re-election campaign, will also discuss easing the diplomatic stalemate over Syria’s bloodshed during talks with host nation Russia.

US officials said Clinton planned to meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vladivostok with the leaders of Japan and South Korea — US allies whose relations have dramatically soured in recent weeks.

The two leaders, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, do not plan to meet each other during the summit as nationalist passions flare over islands disputed between the two nations.

The Obama administration, which has put a renewed focus on Asia, had hoped that Japan and South Korea would overcome deep historical animosity to work together on shared issues such as China’s rise and nuclear-armed North Korea.

But a senior US official travelling with Clinton did not predict a breakthrough between the two countries in Vladivostok.

“This is a matter for Japan and South Korea. We encourage dialogue in each of our bilateral interactions with them,” the official said on Clinton’s plane under customary condition of anonymity.

“We’ve underscored that the positive relationship between Japan and South Korea is in the strategic best interest of the United States and we will continue to do so,” the official said.

Just a few months ago, Japan and South Korea were on the verge of signing a landmark intelligence-sharing pact. But Lee, long seen as a top ally of Obama, faced a backlash at home and made an unprecedented trip to islands known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

[PHOTO -at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vladivostok]

The issue flared up as the United States was putting more diplomatic energy into separate disputes in the West Philippine Sea, where Vietnam and the Philippines have accused Beijing of a campaign of intimidation to exert its own claims.

In Vladivostok, Clinton plans to meet with the leaders of Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, underscoring her interest in the West Philippine Sea, after stops this week in China, Indonesia and Brunei.

Clinton, who has become the first US secretary of state to visit all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is hoping that the bloc and China will agree to a code of conduct to manage maritime disputes.

On relations with China Clinton told reporters Thursday that the United States and “certainly I, am not going to shy away from standing up for our strategic interests, and in expressing clearly where we differ”.

“The mark of a mature relationship — whether it’s between nations or between people — is not whether we agree on everything, because that is highly unlikely between nations and people, but whether we can work through the issues that are difficult,” she added.

Clinton plans to meet Saturday morning with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks expected to focus on deep disagreements between the two nations on the bloodshed in Syria.

Russia is the main diplomatic and military supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, who has led a clampdown that activists say has killed more than 26,000 people, and has vetoed with China two UN draft resolutions on Syria.

Russia said that President Vladimir Putin will meet only briefly with Clinton as she is not a head of state.

Putin skipped a Group of Eight summit in the United States in apparent anger over Obama not taking time out of his re-election campaign to make the trip to the Russian far east.

A US official was unfussed about Putin’s plans with Clinton, saying: “I think this is exactly what the two sides had planned and what we expected given that she’s sitting in for the president.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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