Biden, Xi to address Apec leaders at special summit on coronavirus

WELLINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – US President Joe Biden, China’s Xi Jinping and other world leaders will meet virtually on Friday (July 16) as part of an informal Apec meeting focused on ending the Covid-19 pandemic and supporting the global economic recovery as Asia struggles with a deadly resurgence of virus cases.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose country is chairing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation this year, has called an unprecedented additional meeting of the heads of its 21 member economies before a formal summit later this year. The group includes the US, China, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and Canada, as well South-east Asian and Pacific-facing countries.

“I will be inviting discussion on immediate measures to achieve more co-ordinated regional action to assist recovery, as well as steps that will support inclusive and sustainable growth over the long term,” Ardern said in a statement.

The meeting comes as Apec countries from Indonesia and Malaysia to Thailand and Japan face rising coronavirus caseloads, and as Hong Kong and Singapore struggle to reopen their economies at a pace that matches New York and London.

At the same time, the meeting is bound to reflect tensions between the US and China, who continue to spar on everything from human rights to technology.

The White House is discussing whether to move ahead with plans for a digital trade agreement covering Indo-Pacific economies to counter Beijing’s influence, while it hits out China over its policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

At the virtual meeting, Biden would share his vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. His participation in the Apec leaders summit underscores US leadership in the region, as well as the president’s commitment to multilateral institutions, she said.

“As President Biden’s first engagement with many of the Apec leaders, particularly those in South-east Asia, he will emphasise the importance he places on the region as well as his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Psaki said.

A senior Biden administration official said Thursday night that the President planned to talk about the role America is playing in distributing vaccines to other countries, and to promote an economic agenda that includes a broad, lasting recovery from the pandemic.

Xi will also attend the virtual summit, which Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Thursday called “an important meeting held at a critical time.” “We hope all parties can uphold the vision of an Asian-Pacific community with a shared future, carry forward the Asia-Pacific partnership, send a positive message of fighting the coronavirus with solidarity, and deepening economic recovery and cooperation,” Zhao said at a regular briefing in Beijing on Thursday.

Trade ministers for Apec nations had agreed in June to try and expedite the distribution of vaccines and other essential medical supplies between economies to combat the pandemic. Biden had separately met with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia in March as part of the so-called Quad group of countries, pledging to ramp up vaccine manufacturing in the region.

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