By David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
(Reuters) -Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum gather this week in San Francisco for the 30th APEC summit, where the spotlight will be on a rare meeting between the U.S. and Chinese presidents.
WHAT IS APEC AND WHAT TO WATCH FOR?
APEC accounts for about 62% of global GDP and almost half of global trade. It is unique in grouping economies rather than nations, allowing participation of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong and democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own. It does not though include India, the world’s most populous country.
APEC operates on the basis of non-binding commitments with decisions reached by consensus and commitments undertaken on a voluntary basis. The leaders will gather from Wednesday to Friday, following preparatory meetings of senior finance officials and ministers. An annual APEC CEO summit runs from Tuesday to Thursday.
APEC has become a stage for strategic competition between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, and all eyes will be on a bilateral summit scheduled for Wednesday in the San Francisco Bay Area between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, only their second in person meeting since Biden took office in January 2021.
Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday the U.S. president would seek to “advance the ball” on re-establishing military-to-military communications with China during the meeting to avoid “mistakes or miscalculations or miscommunication.”The Biden-Xi meeting is also expected to cover global issues from the Israel-Hamas war to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan, human rights, as well as trade and economic relations, a senior U.S. official said.
WHAT PROTESTS ARE EXPECTED AT APEC?
Protesters are expected in San Francisco – some to support Beijing and others to demonstrate against China’s human rights record. The high-profile gathering could also attract demonstrations over the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, which have divided APEC members.
These divisions will make drafting a summit declaration difficult and any joint statement is likely to be bland, with stronger views expressed by smaller groups of like-minded countries.
Russia’s APEC participation became divisive after it invaded Ukraine last year. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not participate and did not attend the 2022 summit in Bangkok.
Hong Kong’s representation became controversial as its chief executive, John Lee, is under U.S. human-rights sanctions. The Hong Kong government said Lee would not attend due to “scheduling issues” and Financial Secretary Paul Chan would do so instead.
WHAT WILL WORLD LEADERS WEAR?
Traditionally APEC leaders wear local costume for a final-day group photo. This started in 1993 when then President Bill Clinton prescribed bomber jackets in Seattle.
President Barack Obama, however, broke with tradition in 2011 by not ordering up Hawaiian shirts. Whether and how San Francisco rises to the occasion remains to be seen.
WHAT IS THIS YEAR’S FOCUS?
The U.S. has chosen the theme “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All” for APEC 2023. It says it aims for an “interconnected, innovative, and inclusive” region and “to advance a free, fair, and open economic policy agenda that benefits U.S. workers, businesses, and families.”
As of 2021, APEC members made up seven of the United States’ top 10 overall trading partners and Washington is expected to play up the relative strength of its economy in challenging times – a veiled comparison with difficulties China has faced after years of spectacular growth.
It will also seek to highlight progress in the 14-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) it created to boost engagement after former President Donald Trump quit a regional trade pact in 2017. However, experts say it has so far failed to convince Asia that IPEF is more than a pale alternative to a fully fledged trade deal.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng on Friday and said they had agreed to “intensify communication” on economic issues, while she also warned him to crack down on Chinese companies that give material support to Russia for its war in Ukraine.
WHO ARE APEC’S MEMBERS?
APEC’s members are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
Attempts by India to join APEC have been stymied for decades – first because its economy was not integrated into the global system and then by a membership freeze.
Taiwan presidents do not attend APEC summits and Morris Chang, founder of semiconductor maker TSMC who went to the Bangkok summit last year, is to represent the island this year too.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Michael Martina in WashingtonEditing by Michelle Nichols, Matthew Lewis and Alistair Bell)