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Divided APEC leaders battle for unity after US, China spat

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Port Moresby | Leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific nations battled to paper over gaping differences Sunday after an unusually sharp exchange of words between the group’s two most powerful members, the United States and China.

With just hours of the two-day summit remaining, officials were still scrambling to forge enough of a consensus to issue a formal joint statement and were admitting privately that it might not be possible, amid yawning differences on trade policy.

The annual gathering has been overshadowed by speeches on Saturday from Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice President Mike Pence, which appeared to represent competing bids for regional leadership.

Pence warned smaller countries not to be seduced by China’s massive Belt-and-Road infrastructure programme, which sees Beijing offer money to poorer countries for construction and development projects. The “opaque” loans come with strings attached and build up “staggering debt”, Pence charged, mocking the initiative as a “constricting belt” and a “one-way road”. He urged nations instead to stick with the United States, which doesn’t “drown our partners in a sea of debt” or “coerce, corrupt or compromise your independence”.

In a speech to business leaders just minutes before Pence, Xi insisted the initiative was not a “trap” and there was no “hidden agenda” — amid criticism that it amounts to “chequebook diplomacy” in the region. Xi also lashed out at “America First” trade protectionism, saying it was a “short-sighted approach” that was “doomed to failure”. The feisty barbs on a gleaming white cruise ship moored in Port Moresby set the scene for a potentially fiery meeting between Xi and US President

Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Argentina at the end of this month. But Xi and Pence, who both wore shiny, red shirts provided by the Pacific island did hold talks on Saturday night at the leaders’ gala dinner. Pence told reporters on Sunday: “I spoke to President Xi twice during the course of this conference. We had a candid conversation.”  He told him that the US is interested in a better relationship with China “but there has to be change” in Beijing’s trade policies.

With fears that a trade war between the two rivals could cripple the Pacific Rim economy, some attendees voiced concern about the growing rivalry for influence in the region. “Business leaders do not want to speak out, but behind the scenes here, they are talking over dinner saying ‘how has this happened’?” said Denis O’Brien, the billionaire chairman of Digicel. “It’s a very forced situation, one country is trying to force all the other countries to change tariffs agreed over years,” O’Brien told AFP.

Trump — and Russian President Vladimir Putin — both decided to skip the gathering, leaving the spotlight on Xi who arrived two days early to open a Chinese-funded school and road in Papua New Guinea’s dirt-poor capital Port Moresby.

Xi has been the star of the show, front and centre at official photos whereas Pence has kept a lower profile, only deciding at the last minute to stay overnight in Port Moresby — shelving original plans to fly in and out from Cairns in Australia. As if to counter Chinese largesse, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan on Sunday announced a project to boost electricity capacity in Papua New Guinea. The project aims to raise the percentage of the PNG population with access to electricity from 13 per cent to 70 per cent.

And as the US and China vie for influence in the region, the statement dangled the prospect of similar projects for countries that “support principles and values which help maintain and promote a free, open, prosperous and rules-based region.”

With the official business of the summit relatively low-key, much of the focus has been on the unlikely venue of Port Moresby, which is hosting its first international event of this scale. The city is on lockdown with hundreds of police and military patrolling the streets of the notoriously crime-ridden capital.

Warships are stationed just off the coast to provide security for the leaders, and delegates and media have been housed in enormous cruise ships due to a dearth of hotel rooms.

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Meeting with Xi on cards, says Trump amid high-level trade negotiations

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Donald Trump

Trump, after his meeting with a visiting Chinese trade delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday that he would probably meet Xi next month.

 

Washington| US President Donald Trump has said he may host his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at his personal Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida next month to discuss the final terms of a trade deal that is being negotiated by the two countries.

The world’s two largest economies are locked in a trade war since Trump imposed heavy tariffs on imported steel and aluminium items from China in March last year, a move that sparked fears of a global trade war.

In response, China, the world’s second largest economy after the US, imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars worth of American imports.

Top trade officials from America and China are currently holding talks in the US to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal before their self-imposed deadline of March 1.

Trump, after his meeting with a visiting Chinese trade delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday that he would probably meet Xi next month.

(I would be meeting Xi) Probably at Mar-a-Largo, probably fairly soon, during the month of March. We have two schedules and we’ll be planning, the US President said.

The meeting, however, depends on the pace of the US-China negotiations on a comprehensive trade deal, he said.

During a dinner summit in Buenos Aires on December 1, the two leaders agreed to give a pause to their trade war and set a deadline of negotiating a trade agreement by March 1. So far, at least eight rounds of talks have been held. Trump said that they have made considerable progress.

I think we are getting along very well. Ultimately, I think the biggest decisions and some even smaller decisions will be made by President Xi and myself and we expect to have a meeting sometime in the not too distant future. And I can only say talks are going along well but we are going to have to see what happens, the US President said.

Trump said that there will be some points that this group will not agree on because maybe they are not supposed to agree on them or allowed to agree on them.

I think President Xi and I will work out the final points perhaps and perhaps not, he said.

Describing the talks as very good, he said there’s a chance that something very exciting could happen.

This is a deal that would be signed by me. I’ve been in touch with Congress. I’ve been telling many of the people in Congress exactly where we are, Trump said.

Currently, the US is getting a 25 per cent tariff on USD 50 billion worth of goods from China in mostly technology. It is also getting a 10 per cent tariff on USD 200 billion worth of goods.

The 10 per cent goes up as of March 1. It goes to a 25 per cent number so we would be getting 25 per cent on USD 250 billion and there’s about USD 267 billion that’s untouched which we discuss later, Trump said.

If we can make a deal, we wouldn’t have to bother with that discussion so we will see what happens but we’ve had very good talks, he said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the two delegations have made tremendous progress and that the Chinese team has decided to extend their stay in the US for another two days to continue with their negotiations.

If we can successfully conclude, it will be very good for the US business and finally allowing China to open up to US business, he said.

Mnuchin said that the two countries have also reached an agreement on the Chinese currency manipulation.

Let’s stabilize the currency, Trump said, adding that the two delegations would have another round of meeting before his summit with Xi.

Trump said that he is willing to extend the March 1 deadline, if he sees substantial progress in the trade talks.

We have a one-time shot at making a great deal for both the countries and so we are going to give it. So, it depends on where we are. If we’re doing very well on the negotiations, I could see extending that. I don’t think it would have to a long-term extension, he said.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu said: From China, we believe that it is very likely that it will happen, and we hope that ultimately we’ll have a deal. And the Chinese side is ready to make our utmost effort.

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Trump nominates Kelly Craft as Nikki Haley’s successor at UN

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Washington | President Donald Trump has nominated his envoy to Canada Kelly Knight Craft as the next US Ambassador to the UN to succeed Indian-American Nikki Haley.

In October, Haley announced that she was leaving the post by the end of the year.  The 46-year-old former South Carolina governor has served nearly two years in the post. She was the first Indian-American ever appointed to a Cabinet position in any US presidential administration. If confirmed by the Senate, Craft, 56, would replace Haley.

“I am pleased to announce that Kelly Knight Craft, our current Ambassador to Canada, is being nominated to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations,” Trump announced on Twitter on Friday night. “Kelly has done an outstanding job representing our nation and I have no doubt that, under her leadership, our country will be represented at the highest level. Congratulations to Kelly and her entire family!” Trump said.

Haley congratulated Craft shortly after the president’s online announcement. “She’s done a great job representing us as @USAmbCanada and we know she’ll be a strong voice for America at the United Nations. #USstrong,” the former ambassador said in a Tweet.

A former businesswoman, Craft is the country’s first woman ambassador to Canada.  Craft is Trump’s second choice to replace Haley. His first choice, former State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew her name from consideration on February 16, citing personal and family reasons.

Craft has been ambassador to Canada since October 2017. She previously served as an alternate delegate to the UN during the George W Bush administration.

During her time in Ottawa, she raised eyebrows when she said that she believes in “both sides of the science” when it comes to climate change. Craft has also been a supporter of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade deal that was negotiated by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), although not yet approved by Congress.

The Kentucky native has been married to billionaire coal mining businessman Joe Craft since 2016. The couple are both long-term and generous donors to the Republican party.

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Trump says India looking at something ‘very strong’ after Pulwama attack

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CRPF jaish

Washington | Asserting that there is a lot of problems between India and Pakistan, US President Donald Trump has said New Delhi is looking at something “very strong” in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack.

Forty CRPF personnel were killed and five injured on February 14 in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir when a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) rammed a vehicle carrying a huge quantity of explosives into their bus in Pulwama district.

India launched a major diplomatic offensive against Islamabad after the attack and highlighted Pakistan’s role in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

The international community led by the US pressed Pakistan to deny safe haven to terror groups operating form its soil and bring the perpetrators of the Pulwama attack to justice.

Trump, after his meeting with a visiting Chinese trade delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He, told reporters in the Oval Office of the White House on Friday that “in Kashmir, it’s very dangerous”.

The President referred to the possibility of a strong response from India in the wake of the terrorist attack. “India is looking at something very strong. And I mean, India just lost almost 50 people with an attack. So, I could understand that also,” he said when asked about India’s right to self-defence.

Responding to questions on the tense situation between the two South Asian neighbours, Trump said the US is talking so does some other nations, without mentioning them.

“We are talking and a lot of people are talking. But, it is a very, very delicate balance going on right now. There’s a lot of problems between India and Pakistan because of what just happened,” said the US President. “We’re very much involved in that, if that’s what you’re referring to,” he said.

Trump described the current situation between India and Pakistan as very dangerous. “It’s a terrible thing going on right now between Pakistan and India… it is a very, very bad situation and it’s a very dangerous situation between the two countries. We would like to see it stopped. A lot of people were just killed and we want to see it stopped,” he said.

Trump claimed that his administration has developed a much better relationship with Pakistan, even after he stopped USD 1.3 billion in financial aid to Islamabad. “I stopped Pakistan, the USD 1.3 billion that we were paying them. In the meantime, we may set up some meetings with Pakistan.

“Pakistan was taking very strong advantage of the United States under other presidents and we were paying Pakistan 1.3 billion a year. I ended that payment to Pakistan because they weren’t helping us in a way that they should have. And honestly, we’ve developed a much better relationship with Pakistan over the last short period of time than we had,” Trump said.

In the wake of the Pulwama attack, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval last week that America supports India’s right to self-defence as both sides vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan ceases to be a safe haven for JeM and other terror groups.

India has asked Pakistan to take immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control.

New Delhi also announced the withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation status for Pakistan and hiked the customs duty by 200 per cent on goods originating from Pakistan.

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