Battle-lines were immediately drawn at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Papua New Guinea between those against and in-favour of free trade. Leading the charge for those against free trade was Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad who argued that globalisation was creating inequality between nations:
“The benefits of free and fair trade and economic integration have been ruptured, exemplified by Brexit and trade wars between the major economies. The trade war between the U.S. and China has amplified further the disruption to our trade and commerce.”
Australian PM Scott Morrison rose quickly to defend the merits of free trade:
“Our efforts must be about persuading and convincing our peoples again about the domestic benefits.
“We are witnessing a rising tide of trade protectionism along with financial volatility in some emerging economies. The test for us now is to stand up for the economic values we believe in and show how they work.”
Morrison’s mention of trade protectionism was no doubt intended to be a jab at U.S. President Donald Trump.
Thus, it was no surprise that Chinese President, Xi Jinping echoed PM Morrison’s criticism of protectionist policies. According to Xi, the prevailing protectionist policies have stifled the global economic growth.
Another noteworthy supporter of Morrison’s call for greater free trade is Russia as represented by its Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev.
President Trump has decided to bypass the annual meeting of the 21- nation APEC. However, U.S Vice-President Mike Pence is scheduled to attend.
VP Pence tweeted that he would discuss President Trump’s “Commitment to prosperity, security, and freedom in the Indo-Pacific.”
Recently, the United States has taken a more aggressive position on China’s increasing militarisation in the Pacific. It was reported in several media that U.S. Defence Secretary will demand that China remove its military structures on the disputed islands in the Western Philippine Sea.