Xi vows not to decouple call to reject protectionism

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(Bloomberg) – President Xi Jinping pledged China will not engage in decoupling, in a speech to Asia-Pacific leaders in Kuala Lumpur just days after the region ushered in the biggest deal of free trade.

“We will not reverse our course or go against the historical trend by ‘decoupling’ or forming a small circle to prevent others from entering,” Xi said.

Xi spoke by video Thursday morning at Malaysia’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summits, an annual gathering held virtually this year due to the pandemic. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was due to speak later Thursday, while his Japanese and New Zealand counterparts were due to speak on Friday.

Xi’s speech came as he – and the world – awaited clues as to how US President-elect Joe Biden will approach Beijing. The White House declined to say whether President Donald Trump plans to address the summit.

Trump left National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien to represent the United States at a separate rally of Southeast Asian countries last week. Two years ago, Xi and Vice President Mike Pence traded sharp beards in back-to-back speeches at APEC meetings, a confrontation that prevented the forum from issuing a joint statement for the first time.

Countries in Asia and the Pacific, including China, Japan and South Korea, signed the world‘s largest regional free trade agreement this weekend, covering nearly a third of economic output global. The Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership, which has been brewing for nearly a decade, has raised questions about whether the United States would come under Biden to counter China’s growing regional influence, especially as Trump turned withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017.

“In today’s world where economic globalization has become an irreversible trend, no country can develop by keeping its doors closed,” Xi said Thursday.

Last year’s APEC summit in Chile, where Trump expected to sign a preliminary trade deal with China, was called off as host city Santiago grappled with street protests. This further forces the achievement of a leaders’ declaration this year – a non-binding declaration covering topics such as urbanization, sustainable tourism and natural disasters.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the event’s host chief, told APEC meetings on Thursday that the “highest priority” was to “reaffirm our support and commitment to the multilateral trading system based on rules”.

“This is essential for our businesses,” Muhyiddin said in a speech, “because market stability and productivity are the central pillars that ensure that business investment continues to flow even in times of crisis.”

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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