Pence vows no end to tariffs until China bows

by Garry Watts November 21, 2018, 0:35
Pence vows no end to tariffs until China bows

The Pacific island nations command swathes of ocean, pivotal during World War Two, and are home to fish stock and reserves of fossil fuels.

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived to great fanfare on Thursday and was feted by PNG officials. That could lead both sides to deny each other technology, capital, and investment, reversing decades of gains from globalization.

"With the President's undiminished dedication to our country's economic progress and the formidable support he was able to solicit from the respective leaders of the Apec community, we are enthusiastic to say that this trip not only benefited our country today but also its overall economy in the following years", he said.

On this showing at least, the forum's 21 members, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, must decide whether they want to play Cold War 2.

But Mr Xi warned the United States against a trade war, saying Washington risked an economic conflagration.

Pence's warning on Saturday contrasted with remarks made by Trump on Friday, when he said he may not impose more tariffs after China sent the United States a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.

One mentioned opposing "unfair trade practices" and reforming the WTO, while another concerned sustainable development. Other, weaker actors worry about China's behaviour but worry more about offending it. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines fit this category.

"China was angered that the reference to WTO blamed a country for unfair trade practices".

Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities in its main southern port of Hambantota to a Chinese company last December as part of a plan to convert $6 billion of loans that Sri Lanka owed China into equity.

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China may have been concerned about a specific line about unfair trade practices, according to a US official involved in the negotiations.

"It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights", Pence said.

Pence also took direct aim at Xi's signature Belt and Road initiative, saying in his speech countries should not accept debt that compromised their sovereignty.

Speaking moments later, Pence told delegates the United States offers countries in the region "a better option" for economic and diplomatic relations than Beijing's heavy-handed approach.

Speaking before Pence, Xi said there was no geopolitical agenda behind the project, which was unveiled in 2013 and aims to bolster a network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

APEC host PNG is home to 8 million people, four-fifths of whom live outside urban areas and with poor infrastructure, and found itself feted by superpowers.

But before he flew out of PNG, Mr Morrison talked down the significance of the dispute.

The two-day summit was punctuated by acrimony and also underlined a rising rivalry between China and the West for influence in the usually neglected South Pacific, where Beijing has been wooing impoverished island states with aid and loans. China has recently turned its attention to the region with a raft of bilateral financing agreements to often distressed economies. Pence said he encouraged Xi to come to the "G20 understanding that their markets have to open up, that President Trump believes that a deal is possible".

But the USA and its allies have also been keen to demonstrate they are determined to reassert their presence in the South Pacific.

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