President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will have a rare virtual encounter this week as they gather online with other Pacific Rim leaders to chart a path to recovery out of the crisis brought on by the pandemic.
New Zealand is hosting this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which culminates in a leader’s meeting on Saturday.
Coronavirus restrictions mean this year’s event is being held entirely online.
As usual, the 21 APEC members will be seeking areas where members can cooperate on easing barriers to trade and economic growth instead of trying to settle longstanding feuds.
The meeting comes against a backdrop of increased barriers between many of the countries, as nations have imposed pandemic border restrictions and as geopolitical tensions have risen.
Both Taiwan and China have put in applications to join a Pacific Rim trade group, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Beijing saying it will block Taiwan’s bid on the basis that the democratically governed island refuses to accept that it’s part of China.
Since Biden has taken office, Washington has shifted back to a more internationalist approach to trade liberalization, supporting global and regional efforts such as the rules-making World Trade Organization.
However, Biden has kept most trade, technology and investment restrictions that Trump imposed on Chinese exports and companies in place while also moving to counter Beijing’s sway in the region.
According to Bloomberg, a call of APEC leaders that took place earlier this year did not include live participation from Xi. He instead recorded a message and chose not to take part in a virtual roundtable discussion.