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No joint statement as Apec summit tensions boil over

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Tensions rise as police are called after Chinese officials try to barge into office of Papua New Guinea's foreign minister

PORT MORESBY Angry words, different camps, and tough stances.

The Apec summit in Papua New Guinea mirrored world tensions as leaders from the 21-member group were unable to come up with a joint statement for the first time in its history.

A Leaders' Declaration has been issued after every annual Apec leaders' meeting since the first in 1993, the group's website shows.

Nothing encapsulated this more than an incident at Papua New Guinea's foreign ministry.

The police were called when Chinese officials attempted to "barge" into the office of Papua New Guinea's foreign minister, it emerged yesterday.

The Chinese delegates "tried to barge in" to Mr Rimbink Pato's Port Moresby office on Saturday, in an eleventh-hour bid to influence a summit draft communique, but were denied entry, three sources with knowledge of the situation told AFP.

The diplomatic incident came with tensions already high at a summit of Asian-Pacific leaders overshadowed by a spat between the US and China.

Mr Pato had refused to meet with the delegates, according to a source, who said: "It's not appropriate for the minister to negotiate solo with the Chinese. The Chinese negotiating officials know this."

The minister himself sought to downplay the incident and said: "There wasn't an issue."

The Chinese delegation has yet to comment publicly on the incident. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived on Thursday and stoked Western concern on Friday when he met Pacific island leaders to pitch his Belt and Road initiative.

The US and its allies, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, countered yesterday with a US$1.7 billion (S$2.3 billion) plan to deliver reliable electricity and the Internet to Papua New Guinea.

Mr Wang Xiaolong, a senior economic official with China's Apec's delegation, said of the failure to agree on a joint statement that it was "not exactly a sticking point between any particular two countries".

Most members affirmed their commitment to preserving the multilateral trading system and supported a robust and well-functioning WTO, he said.

"Frankly speaking, we are in a very early stage of those discussions and different countries have different ideas as to how to take that process forward," Mr Wang said.


One diplomat involved in the negotiations said tension between the US and China, bubbling all week, erupted when China's top diplomat, Mr Wang Yi, objected during a leaders'retreat to two paragraphs in a draft document.

One mentioned opposing "unfair trade practices" and reforming the WTO, while another concerned sustainable development.

"These two countries were pushing each other so much that the chair couldn't see an option to bridge them," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.- AFP, REUTERS