BusinessMirror

China’s Xi vows no decoupling in call to reject protection­ism

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Pr esident X i Jinping pledged that China wouldn’t engage in decoupling, in an address to Asia- Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur just days after the region inaugurate­d the world’s largest free- trade agreement.

“We will not reverse course or run against the historical trend by ‘ decoupling’ or forming a small circle to keep others out,” Xi said.

Xi spoke by video on 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.

Xi’s speech came as he— and the world— awaits clues on how US President- elect Joe Biden will approach Beijing. The White House declined to say whether President Donald Trump plans to address the summit.

Trump left National Security Advisor Robert O’brien to represent the US 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 that prevented the forum from issuing a joint statement for the first time.

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 US would move under Biden to counter China’s growing regional influence, especially as Trump withdrew from the Trans- Pacific Partnershi­p in 2017.

“In today’s world where economic globalizat­ion has become an irreversib­le trend, no country can develop itself by keeping its doors closed,” Xi said Thursday.

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.

Malaysian Pr ime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the event’s host leader, told APEC gatherings Thursday that the “most important priority” was to “reaffirm our support and commitment for the rules- based multilater­al trading system.”

“This is essential for our businesses,” Muhyiddin said in a speech, “as market stability and productivi­ty are the central pillars which ensure that trade investment continue to flow even during times of crisis.”

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