RPT: PREVIEW - Trade Tensions To Overshadow 2-Day APEC Summit In Papua New Guinea On November 17-18

(@FahadShabbir)

RPT: PREVIEW - Trade Tensions to Overshadow 2-Day APEC Summit in Papua New Guinea on November 17-18

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 17th November, 2018) Leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 21 member states are expected to meet in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), on November 17-18 for a two-day summit.

As an inter-governmental forum established to promote free trade in the Asia-Pacific region, the APEC faces serious challenges in pursuing this mission amid fierce trade frictions between China and the United States.

US President Donald Trump has decided to skip this year's APEC summit in PNG, sending Vice President Mike Pence to take his place at the summit. Trump's absence makes it impossible for the United States and China to reach any kind of agreement to resolve the escalating trade tensions between to two countries, which introduced steep reciprocal tariffs on each other in recent months.

A scheduled meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit at the end of the month in Argentina is more likely to provide a solution to the trade frictions between the world's two largest economies.

"The Chinese president is coming [to PNG] for a state visit. In contrast, Donald Trump isn't coming. APEC itself doesn't seem to deliver a very compelling narrative or message. What is APEC for? APEC is meant to promote free trade. But countries [today] tend to move away from free trade, including the United States. The whole push toward free trade has stalled. APEC has lost some of its purpose," Professor Stephen Howes, the Director of the Development Policy Center under the Australian National University, told Sputnik.

In the absence of advocating free trade, the attention on this year's APEC summit tend to focus on the troubles of the host country PNG and China's rise, as well as competition between China and Australia, the scholar noted.

As one of the poorest nations among the 21 APEC member states, PNG faced a lot of challenges in preparation to host the upcoming summit. The PNG government had to rely on aid from China to finance a lot of the infrastructure projects built for the summit, after Beijing started to boost its investment in Pacific island nations like PGN under its Belt and Road Initiative in recent years.

A six-lane main road was constructed in Port Moresby with financial assistance from China.

To express its gratitude toward China for its generous financial assistance, PNG authorities rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese president by filling the city of Port Moresby with decorations praising China's contributions.

To welcome the arrival of Chinese President Xi, the main roads in Port Moresby have been decorated with Chinese national flags and traditional Chinese ribbons.

Signs of "China Aid" can be seen all over the city, including bus stops.

A Chinese-style red gate, similar to those used in imperial palaces, has been installed in front of the Stanley Hotel, where Xi is expected to stay.

As the first world leader to arrive in PNG for the APEC summit on Thursday, Xi met with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on Friday. The two countries reached an agreement to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership of mutual respect and common development, Chinese state media reported.

The PNG Prime Minister has pledged that his country will play an active role in China's Belt and Road Initiative, according to media reports.

During the Second World War, PNG became a key battleground between Japan and Australia. By holding off Japanese troops in PNG until Japan's surrender in 1945, Australia was able to protect its mainland from Japanese invasion. PNG also used to be Australia's only colony, before declaring its independence in 1975.

Facing growing Chinese presence in PNG, Australia began to boost support and assistance for its neighbor to maintain its influence.

"I think Australia does view China as a threat. And we're worried that PNG and other Pacific island countries will become closer to China and move further away from Australia. In the run-up to APEC, Australia announced it will set up an infrastructure bank for the Pacific to compete with China," Professor Howes said.

The scholar believes competition between China and Australia could bring benefits to PNG.

"I guess the Pacific counties are the beneficiaries of this. They'll end up with more aid, not only from China, but also from Australia and other Western countries," he said.

To ensure the safety of world leaders during the summit, PNG authorities have also invited Australia to send its naval warships to help patrol the waters close to Port Moresby. Australian police officers have also been deployed in PNG to offer advisory.

Due to security challenges in PNG, world leaders have not confirmed to stay in hotels in Port Moresby during the summit. US Vice President Mike Pence has decided to stay in a hotel in Cairns, Australia and fly to Port Moresby to attend the summit. A number of cruise ships have also been deployed to help accommodate world leaders and their delegations.

Leaders from APEC member states including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are also expected to take part in the summit in PNG.

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