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Xi, Abe meet as big-power rivalries take APEC centre-stage

10 november 2014, 19:35
0

 The leaders of China and Japan held an ice-breaking summit Monday after two years of dangerous animosity, as world leaders including Barack Obama gathered for an Asia-Pacific meeting spotlighting intensifying big-power rivalries, AFP reports.

Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe met in Beijing's Great Hall of the People in what the Japanese prime minister said was a "first step" towards repairing the fractured relationship between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

US President Obama flew in still wounded by the Democrats' defeat in the US mid-term elections and with relations between Washington and Moscow in deep freeze, while his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin arrived a day earlier and quickly signalled his desire for ever-warmer ties with an increasingly assertive China.

The gathering is the biggest event yet hosted by the Chinese president, who took office last year and emphasised his country's expanding world profile on Sunday by declaring a bright future for the vibrant Pacific Rim, with a confident China at its heart.

The annual two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) bloc -- which saw China stage a spectacular welcoming ceremony on Monday evening -- typically sees pledges of amity and trade convergence, often balanced by tense sideline exchanges on festering geopolitical problems.

Beijing and Tokyo's historically frosty relations have plunged to their lowest in decades over competing claims to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea.

Abe told Japanese media that he asked Xi to establish a hotline to prevent clashes at sea, adding: "I think we will start working on concrete steps toward it."

The islands, however, were not specifically mentioned during the 30 minutes of talks, Kyodo news agency quoted a Japanese official as saying.

The meeting appeared strained, with footage of the two leaders' initial handshake showing them looking deadpan and Xi not responding to Abe's greetings.

"Severe difficulties have emerged in Sino-Japanese relations in recent two years and the rights and wrongs behind them are crystal-clear," China's official news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

   China's rise welcomed 

 APEC brings into focus the developing big-power rivalry involving Washington, Beijing and Moscow.

Obama said in a speech the United States "welcomes the rise of a prosperous, peaceful and stable China", while announcing a reciprocal deal to extend visitor visa validities to as much as 10 years.

But Obama also reiterated US calls for China to ease trade tensions by opening its markets and loosening controls on its currency, and to respect human rights.

"We suggest that China do these things for the sake of sustainable growth in China and the stability of the Asia-Pacific region," he said.

Russia is under Western economic sanctions over its seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region and role in that country's separatist war.

No Obama-Putin meeting is known to be scheduled, but Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to confront Putin over Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The West has accused pro-Russian rebels of blasting the plane out of the sky -- 38 Australians were among the 298 dead -- in July with a missile supplied by Moscow. Russia denies the accusations.

Russia and China express impatience with a perceived American domination of world affairs, often vetoing or abstaining from US-led initiatives on the UN Security Council.

The often blunt-spoken Putin told APEC delegates the two sides would seek to increase use of their yuan and ruble currencies, saying the dollar's influence would "objectively decline".

  'Candid' conversations 

 China and the United States have already jousted in Beijing over differing visions of Asia-Pacific trade integration, adding to discord over rights, cyber-espionage, and territorial disputes.

The White House has said it expects "candid and in-depth conversations" between Obama and Xi.

As well as the row with Japan -- a US security ally which Washington is bound by treaty to defend if attacked -- Beijing's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea has also rankled rival claimants to its waters.

Another likely topic between Xi and Obama is North Korea, following the surprise weekend release of two Americans imprisoned by the secretive state.

Beijing is Pyongyang's closest ally.

China put on a dazzling welcome for the APEC leaders, lighting up the capital's huge Olympic park as they arrived for an opening banquet in high-collared traditional Chinese tunics with a sleek modern design.

The event culminates Tuesday with a formal leaders' summit.

APEC kicks off a week of high-level summitry that will see Obama and other top leaders travel next to Myanmar for the East Asia Summit, followed by G20 talks in Brisbane, Australia.

China is hosting APEC for the first time since 2001, when it was still re-emerging as a world economic power.

But in a speech Sunday, Xi underlined how much has changed by offering his vision of an "Asia-Pacific dream", in which China's continued rise offers "infinite promise" to all.


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