Biden, Xi to Address APEC Leaders at Special Summit on Virus
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 U.S., China, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and Canada, as well Southeast 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. Southeast Asia is experiencing one of the worst virus situations in the world right now, with deaths surging by 39% in the seven days through Wednesday, the fastest increase globally.
At the same time, the meeting is bound to reflect tensions between the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Southeast Asia, he will emphasize 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.
The outbreak in Indonesia -- where hospitals are overwhelmed by Covid patients and oxygen supplies are running out -- has eclipsed that in India, which shocked the world with the scale of its recent second wave. Thailand, the first place to see a virus case after China last year, is also seeing surging cases after a period of successful containment.