© Reuters. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, his wife Naraporn Chao-ocha, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan attend the 2022 APEC summit dinner in Bangkok, Thailand, November 17, 2022.Thai government building/Handout via Reuters
By Poppy McPherson and Panu Wongcha-um
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific leaders gathered in Bangkok on Friday for a summit focused on economic issues, but their schedule was interrupted by North Korea’s suspected intercontinental ballistic missile test, while police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
US Vice President Kamala Harris convened a meeting of the leaders of Australia, Japan, South Korea, Canada and New Zealand on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to discuss the missile launch.
Police fired rubber bullets to disperse some 350 Thai antigovernment protesters after clashes about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the summit site in the capital Bangkok, an official in charge of summit security said.
APEC host Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha earlier urged summit participants to seek sustainable growth and development in the wake of economic and social challenges posed by COVID-19, climate change and geopolitical competition.
“We can no longer live the way we used to. We need to adjust our views, our way of life and our way of doing business,” he told an audience that included Harris and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
APEC, which promotes economic integration, consists of 21 economies that account for 38 percent of the world’s population, 62 percent of gross domestic product and 48 percent of trade.
Prayut made no mention of the North Korean missiles, which Japanese officials said fell just 200 kilometers (130 miles) from Japan, long enough to reach the U.S. mainland.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Bangkok for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, told reporters that North Korea had “repeated its provocations with an unprecedented frequency”.
The APEC meeting is the third summit to be held in the region in the past week. The Southeast Asia summit, which includes China, Japan and the United States, is in Cambodia, while the Group of 20 (G20) nations are meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
Earlier meetings focused on the war in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
Activists are eager to see leaders tackle food insecurity, soaring inflation, climate change and human rights.
Such grassroots demands were repeated when anti-government protesters clashed with police after trying to overturn a police car bearing posters of Prayuth and Xi Jinping.
Videos on social media showed protesters trying to overturn police cars, throwing projectiles at officers and charging as officers in riot gear charged at them with shields in hand and pushed them back with batons.
Police said they used rubber bullets to disperse the activists and arrested 10 people.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Thursday that the APEC meeting is being held at a “critical moment” when the world is facing multiple risks.
“That’s why this year’s APEC must overcome these challenges and bring hope to the entire world,” he said in a statement.
Xi Jinping warned on Thursday that the Asia-Pacific region is not anyone’s backyard and should not be an arena for great power competition, and that the region is the focus of competition between Beijing and Washington, warning against Cold War tensions in the region,
“Attempts to start a new cold war will not be tolerated by any person or era,” Xi said in a written speech prepared for a summit-related business event.
Relations between the world’s two largest economies have been strained in recent years over issues including tariffs, Taiwan, intellectual property rights, the revocation of Hong Kong’s autonomy and disputes in the South China Sea.
Harris will visit the Philippine island of Palawan on the edge of the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, a senior U.S. official said, a move that could be seen by Beijing as provocative.
The trip would make Harris the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island chain adjoining the Spratly Islands. China has dredged the sea bed and built ports and airstrips in the Spratly Islands, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
At the G20 meeting, countries unanimously adopted a statement that said most members condemned the war in Ukraine, but acknowledged that some countries view the conflict differently.
Russia is a member of the G20 and APEC, but President Vladimir Putin has stayed away from the summits. First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov will represent him at APEC meetings.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was also in attendance at the main meeting, while French President Emmanuel Macron was a special guest.
After Xi held a rare summit with Japan’s Kishida in Bangkok, the first summit-level meeting between China and Japan in nearly three years, Kishida said he had expressed concern about peace in the Taiwan Strait.
China Central Television reported that Xi told Kishida that the Taiwan issue involves the political basis of the relationship between the two countries and that territorial disputes should be properly handled. The meeting came a day after tensions escalated in Bali, where Xi criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for allegedly leaking their closed-door meeting, a rare public expression of displeasure by Xi. Trudeau is also in Bangkok.