Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has called on world leaders to focus on sustainable economic growth as geopolitical tensions over Ukraine and North Korea threatened to overshadow the last of three back-to-back summits in the region.
Prayuth, who is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok, said on Friday countries would have to break with past practices to overcome the challenges of the pandemic, climate change and geopolitical divisions.
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“We can no longer live like we did. We need to adjust our perspective, ways of life and ways of doing business,” Prayuth said at the opening of the two-day forum.
The gathering, which follows this week’s East Asia Summit in Cambodia and G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, has brought together world leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, although neither US President Joe Biden nor Russian President Vladimir Putin are attending.
Biden, who is attending a family wedding, is being represented by Vice President Kamala Harris, while Putin will be represented by First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov.
While APEC is officially tasked with encouraging economic development in the region, the gathering is expected to be dominated by geopolitical tensions over Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea’s latest launch of a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile.
Speaking in Bangkok on Friday, Kishida said Tokyo had lodged a “strong protest” over Pyongyang’s latest test-firing of a missile, which landed in waters off Japan’s northern prefecture of Hokkaido.
Harris and Kishida, along with leaders from South Korea, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, held an emergency meeting about the launch on the sidelines of the forum, with Harris urging Pyongyang to “stop further unlawful, destabilising acts.”
Russia’s war in Ukraine will also be high on the agenda as fighting exacerbates a cost-of-living crisis that has seen inflation in many countries reach four-decade highs.
Despite divisions over Russia’s role in the conflict, the G20 on Wednesday issued a declaration stating that a majority of members condemned “Russian aggression” in Ukraine while noting there “were other views and different assessments”.
On Thursday, Thai foreign minister Don Pramudwinai expressed concern about a growing “cancel mentality that permeates every conversation and action” and makes “any compromise appear impossible”.
“That’s why APEC this year must rise above these challenges and deliver hope to the world at large that, collaboratively, there is room that we can prevail and prosper,” Don told financial officials on the sidelines of the forum.
Xi on Thursday also warned against a growing “Cold War mentality, hegemonism, unilateralism and protectionism” at a time of severe challenges for the global economy.
“Acts that distort international norms, disrupt economic linkages, inflate conflicts in regions, and impede development cooperation are all too common,” Xi said in prewritten remarks. “All these pose a serious challenge to peace and development in the Asia-Pacific.”
APEC, formed in 1989 to promote regional free trade and economic cooperation, represents more than 60 percent of the global economy and nearly half of global trade.