By KRUTIKA PATHI and ELAINE KURTENBACH
BANGKOK (AP) — Leaders from around the Asia-Pacific were wrapping up a summit in Bangkok, Thailand, with talks Saturday on how to steer the region’s economies through the turmoil of war, pandemics and other threats to peace and stability.
The 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum ‘s long-term mission is promoting closer economic ties, but its summits often are sidetracked by other more urgent issues.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha opened Saturday’s meeting by urging the leaders to push ahead with APEC’s agenda of promoting free trade in the Pacific region.
“We have to give priority to turning this plan into action,” Prayuth said.
On Friday, APEC ministers issued a statement condemning Moscow’s war on Ukraine and calling for it to fully withdraw. But it acknowledged differences of opinions among those present, which included Andrei Belousov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister.
The meetings Saturday wrap up a flurry of leaders’ meetings in Southeast Asian countries this week. Much of the activity at such summits occurs on the sidelines and in the interludes before and after meetings begin.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and the leaders of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea met separately Friday to voice concerns about North Korea’s launch earlier in the day of an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed near Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
The APEC meetings Saturday returned to economic concerns.
“The world has been changed by events none of us saw forthcoming,” Kristalina Georgieva, head of the International Monetary Fund, told the leaders gathered in Bangkok’s heavily fortified conference center.
Namely, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, she said.
The summits over the past week have given leaders a chance for face-to-face encounters that have been rare in the past two years due to the pandemic.
A White House official said Harris exchanged brief remarks with Chinese President Xi Jinping before Saturday’s final APEC session.
The official said Harris reiterated a message conveyed by President Joe Biden when he met with Xi at the Group of 20 leading economies in Bali, Indonesia, earlier in the week: We must maintain open lines of communication to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.
The official spoke on condition they not be named to be able to speak to the media.
Both at APEC in Thailand and at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia, officials appear to have chosen to agree to disagree about the war in Ukraine. In Bali, China and India, after months of refusing to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine, did not block the release of a statement that harshly criticized Moscow.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy — constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” said the ministerial statement issued Friday. “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
It noted that APEC ”is not the forum to resolve security issues,” but acknowledged “security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
It’s a message that has been voiced by many during this week heavy in summitry.
APEC members account for nearly four of every 10 people and almost half of world trade. Much of APEC’s work is technical and incremental, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covering areas such as trade, forestry, health, food, security, small- and medium-size enterprises and women’s empowerment.
Other APEC members include Brunei, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was to represent the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but did not attend after getting COVID-19.
The summit venue, at Bangkok’s main convention center near a vast parkland, was cordoned off with some streets closed to traffic. Riot police stood guard behind barricades at a major intersection, keeping protesters well at bay.
But police clashed in another area of Bangkok with demonstrators who took the opportunity of the APEC meeting to renew calls for democratic reforms in Thailand and accuse the government of promoting policies to APEC that favor big business over ordinary people.
Police blocked them, sparking a violent confrontation with some protesters tossing debris and other items at police, who then charged the crowd, shooting rubber bullets. Several people were injured and a number of arrests were made in the standoff, which lasted several hours.
Associated Press journalists Grant Peck, Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul, Tian McLeod Ji, David Rising, Chisato Tanaka, Jerry Harmer and Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s APEC coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific-economic-cooperation
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