November 20, 2018 / 12:56 AM / 24 days ago

China blames 'excuses' for APEC discord, as U.S. ties sour again

BEIJING (Reuters) - The failure of the countries attending a major Asia-Pacific summit to agree on a communique resulted from certain countries “excusing” protectionism, a top Chinese diplomat said, in a veiled criticism of Washington that further sours China-U.S. ties ahead of a meeting of the G20 nations

Leaders attend the retreat session of the APEC Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

In Washington, a White House official rejected the Chinese line as “complete spin and propaganda” and said the standoff did not raise hopes for a positive meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 next week.

After months of bickering over trade, the disputed South China Sea and U.S. support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan, Xi and Trump took a step back from the edge with an ice-breaking telephone call early this month.

They expressed optimism about resolving their trade war ahead of the G20 in Argentina, but the past weekend’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was marked by open disagreement between the United States and China over trade, security and which would be the better investment partner for the region.

For the first time, the gathered leaders failed to agree to a joint communique.

In comments on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website late on Monday, China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said this was “by no means accidental.”

“It is mainly that individual economies insisted on imposing their own texts on other parties, excusing protectionism and unilateralism, and not accepting reasonable revisions from the Chinese and other parties,” the ministry cited Wang as saying, in an oblique reference to the United States.

“This practice caused dissatisfaction among many economies, including China, and it is obviously not in line with the consensus principle adhered to by APEC.”

On Monday, China’s foreign ministry said the United States, whose APEC delegation was led by Vice President Mike Pence, attended the summit in a “blaze of anger” and that China had not gone to “get into a boxing ring.”

Pence said the United States would not back down from the trade dispute, and might even double tariffs, unless Beijing bowed to U.S. demands.

On Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman added to the criticism of the failure to sign the communique.

“An individual member” of APEC would not heed other members and insisted on trying to add content “harming other countries’ basic interests,” trying to “put on a coat of legitimacy to its protectionist, unilateralist ways,” Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.

“PAYING LIP SERVICE”

Speaking to Reuters, a White House official said the suggestion that the United States was responsible for the APEC breakdown was “complete spin and propaganda from the Chinese.”

“All 20 out of 21 nations were prepared to sign on with the language that was finalised with the exception of China,” said the official, who did not want to be identified by name, adding that China had seen a line in proposed text referring to unfair trade practices as a veiled shot at it.

“We were pushing to get this done, and they just were not having it,” the official said.

The official said it did not bode well for the Trump-Xi G20 meeting.

“The White House saw ASEAN and APEC as setting the stage for the G20; Pence spoke with the Chinese premier at ASEAN briefly and with Xi at APEC briefly about what President Trump wants to discuss at the G20.

“We want to be hopeful,” the official said. “I wouldn’t say expectations are high after our experience.”

The trade dispute between China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, has weighed on financial markets ahead of the meeting in Argentina, which some have billed as the most important in years between the two countries.

Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to force concessions on a list of demands that would change the two countries’ terms of trade. China has responded with import tariffs on U.S. goods.

Washington wants Beijing to improve market access and intellectual property protections for U.S. companies, cut industrial subsidies and reduce a $375 billion trade gap.

Last week, Reuters reported that China had delivered a written response to U.S. demands for wide-ranging trade reforms, though a senior Trump administration official said it was unlikely to bring a breakthrough during the two leaders’ talks.

It appeared Trump and Xi had indicated to senior advisers that they wanted to flesh out a deal, Craig Allen, the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, told Reuters this month.

“This could be the basis for a ceasefire, a halt to new tariffs, and an opportunity for new negotiations,” Allen said of the planned G20 meeting. “But I don’t think it’s a guaranteed slam dunk.”

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez

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