Nusa Dua (Indonesia) (AFP) – China took center-stage at an Asia-Pacific summit on Monday, adopting a leadership role on the strength of its new-found economic might as the United States struggles to overcome its budget paralysis.
The U.S. federal shutdown has stopped U.S. President Barack Obama from attending the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, and another meeting this week of East Asian leaders in Brunei.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stressed Obama’s determination to remain engaged with the Pacific Rim region. But his absence left the arena clear for the leader of one-party China to trumpet the mounting heft of the world’s second largest economy.
“China will firmly uphold regional peace and stability and help cement a foundation for a win-win situation in the Asia-Pacific,” President Xi Jinping told an APEC business forum, as he emphasized his country was the biggest trading partner and export market for many nations in the region.
Prior to a gala dinner, at which Indonesia resurrected an APEC tradition of dressing up the leaders in artisan designs, Xi also sought in his speech to adopt a healing and united tone.
“China cannot develop in isolation of the Asia-Pacific and the Asia-Pacific cannot prosper without China,” he said, stressing that his country’s recent economic slowdown was the intended result of policies designed to put growth on a more sustainable path.
“We the Chinese often say a family in harmony prospers. As a member of the Asia-Pacific family, China is ready to live in amity with other family members and help each other.”
The communist leader has been touring Southeast Asia, where there is much disquiet about China’s territorial ambitions, and also touted the benefits of free trade pacts after securing commercial deals worth tens of billions of dollars in Indonesia and Malaysia.
China is involved in talks on a trade agreement grouping 16 East Asian nations just as Washington’s rival “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) of 12 countries appears to be running into trouble.
While sympathetic to Obama’s political plight, the leaders of U.S. allies in APEC such as Singapore expressed disappointment that he had been unable to throw his presidential weight personally behind the TPP and Washington’s stop-start “pivot” towards Asia.
Foreign friends and rivals alike, as well as financial markets, are worried by a threat bigger even than the shutdown: the possibility that the U.S. government might default on its colossal debts unless Congress raises the federal borrowing limit by October 17.