APEC: Chinese President snubs live meeting, sends pre-recorded remarks instead

The Asia-Pacific trade group APEC met overnight yesterday, an extraordinary two-hour summit of world leaders chaired by Jacinda Ardern and attended by 21 heads of state.

But after China confirmed on Thursday he would be there, President Xi Jinping actually beamed in with pre-recorded remarks. This is in contrast to US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who stayed on for the entire two-and-a-half-hour call. 

It wasn't China's only broadside - President Xi was the only leader to make an announcemen, setting up his own multibillion-dollar APEC COVID fund.

The ongoing pandemic dominated the discussion, as it runs rife in Asia-Pacific - more than 100,000 new cases are still recorded every day.

Indonesia's in the midst of a deadly outbreak. Malaysia and Thailand are suffering too. Their citizens need vaccinations badly - at APEC, vaccines are at the top of the list.

Leaders have agreed to lower tariffs on vaccines and pandemic supplies - some face tariffs of up to 20 percent. But it won't happen yet. The deadline is November, when the APEC leaders meet again.

"From our perspective we want to see tariffs on vaccines waived as soon as possible," Ardern said. 

Ardern set a series of targets for APEC, including speeding up vaccines at the border, discussing travel bubbles, vaccine passports and even an end to fossil fuel subsidies.

But specifics on all of those issues will have to wait.

"The purpose of today wasn't about specific announceables from individual nations, '' she said.

Alan Bollard used to run APEC in Singapore and told Newshub Nation this represents the first leaders meeting outside November, which was a success in itself for Jacinda Ardern.

"That's big - I mean those guys have got massive diaries all worked out well in advance so to get all that sorted is quite an achievement… given the tensions between the US and China and some of the other tensions, it's probably more important than ever."

In the next few months the stakes are high. As APEC is more about discussion than decisions - and today the only concrete announcement came from China acting alone. It means the measure of progress at APEC is kicked down the road to November this year.

With the pandemic raging across the region, Asia-Pacific needs actions - not words.

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