U.S. President Joe Biden, his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among Pacific Rim leaders gathering virtually to discuss strategies to help economies rebound from a resurgent coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will chair the special leaders’ meeting Friday of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
But the pandemic and vaccine diplomacy have proved to be divisive issues among members of a forum that says its primary goal is to support sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Biden’s participation at the meeting demonstrates U.S. leadership in the Indo-Pacific region and the United States’ commitment to multilateral institutions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
“As the president’s first engagement with many of the APEC leaders, particularly those in Southeast Asia, he will also emphasize the importance he places on the region as well as his vision for free and open Indo-Pacific,” Psaki said.
Biden would also update leaders on what the United States was doing to “serve as an arsenal of vaccines for the region” and to support all those suffering from Covid-19, she said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the “important meeting” came at a critical time as the world was facing a resurgence in Covid-19 infection numbers and international cooperation against the pandemic had entered a new stage.
“We hope all parties can uphold the vision of an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future, carry forward the Asia-Pacific partnership, send a positive message of fighting the coronavirus with solidarity and deepen economic recovery and cooperation,” Zhao said.
Suga will speak about his determination to hold a safe and secure Olympics when the games start in Tokyo on July 23, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.
Suga will also emphasis Japan’s determination to secure fair access to vaccines for all countries and regions to support the global effort toward ending the Covid-19 pandemic, and Tokyo’s vision to expand a free and fair economic bloc, Kato said.
Ardern said APEC’s first leaders’ meeting outside the usual annual summits “reflects our desire to navigate together out of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis,” he added.
“APEC economies have suffered their biggest contraction since the Second World War over the past year, with 81 million jobs lost. Responding collectively is vital to accelerate the economic recovery for the region,” said Ardern, whose South Pacific island nation has been among the most successful in the world in containing the virus.
The pace of a global vaccine rollout and conditions attached to international vaccine deals are vexed issues among APEC members.