China’s Xi to Address Summit Amid Calls to Reject Protectionism

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to address Asia-Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur, just days after the region inaugurated the world’s largest free-trade agreement and as he waits for clues on how U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will approach Beijing.

Xi wasscheduled to speak by video Thursday morning as part of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits hosted by Malaysia, an annual gathering being held virtually this year due the pandemic. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was slated to speak later Thursday, while his counterparts from Japan and New Zealand were expected to address the gathering on Friday.

The White House declined to say whether President Donald Trump plans to address the summit. He left National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to represent the U.S. at a separate gathering of Southeast Asian nations last week. Xi and Vice President Mike Pence traded sharp barbs in back-to-back speeches at APEC meetings two years ago, a confrontation thatprevented the forum from issuing a joint statement for the first time.

Earlier this week, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan called for global solidarity and a shift away from protectionism as Beijing grapples with the prospect of a new administration in Washington. “Countries must rise above exclusive blocs and reject the zero-sum mentality,” Wangtold the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Monday.

Asia-Pacific nations including China, Japan and South Korea signed the world’s largest regional free-trade agreement over the weekend, encompassing almost a third of the world’s economic output. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, almost a decade in the making, has raised questions over whether the U.S. would move under Biden to counter China’s growing regional influence, especially as Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017.

Last year’s APEC summit in Chile, where Trump had expected to sign a preliminary trade accord with China, was canceled as host city Santiago struggled with street protests. That puts greater onus on reaching a Leaders’ Declaration this year — a non-binding statement covering topics such as urbanization, sustainable tourism and natural disasters.

— With assistance by Lucille Liu

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