Threats to peace and stability burst onto the agenda at a summit of Pacific Rim leaders in Bangkok on Friday after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed near Japanese territorial waters.
The missile test was a stark reminder of persisting risks of conflict in the region and beyond, on top of frictions between the big powers that threaten to unravel the global order.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia and New Zealand convened an emergency meeting on the missile launch.
“This conduct by North Korea most recently is a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. It destabilizes security in the region, and unnecessarily raises tensions,” Harris said in remarks as the meeting started.
“We strongly condemn these actions and we again call for North Korea to stop further unlawful, destabilizing acts,” she said.
North Korea is under United Nations sanctions for past weapons tests but has not faced new sanctions this year because U.S. attempts were opposed by China and Russia in the Security Council.
A Thai government spokesperson said leaders also expressed concern about the missile launch in closed-door meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on Friday
The 21-member APEC’s long-term mission is promoting closer economic ties but its summits often are sidetracked by other more urgent issues.
APEC leaders appeared likely to issue a joint declaration condemning the war in Ukraine after their foreign ministers agreed on a statement that “deplores in the strongest terms” the invasion by Moscow.
The statement followed a similar approach as that adopted at a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies earlier this week, where leaders endorsed a statement saying that “most” — not all — had agreed and that there were differing opinions. Russia’s foreign minister attended the G-20.
The strategy is a shift from the past, when rules requiring a consensus prevented such gatherings from issuing declarations on such divisive issues. None of the earlier APEC preparatory meetings this year issued statements due to disagreements over whether to mention the conflict in Ukraine.
Both at APEC in Thailand and at the G-20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, officials appear to have chosen to agree to disagree. In Bali, China and India, after months of refusing to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine, did not block the release of a statement that harshly criticized Moscow.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy –- constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” said the statement issued Friday. “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
It noted that APEC ”is not the forum to resolve security issues,” but acknowledged “security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
It’s a message that has been voiced by many during this week heavy in summitry.
“Geopolitical tensions are detracting from peace and stability and undermining the rules-based international order, which we all agree are essential,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told the opening session of the two-day APEC leaders meeting, which ends Saturday.
At the meeting, leaders appealed for an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine and considered strategies for nursing along economic recoveries from the coronavirus pandemic while contending with food and energy crises, the need to cut the carbon emissions that cause climate change and other urgent tasks.
At a business conference on the sidelines of APEC, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an end to confrontation, both in Ukraine and also in Asia, where he said friction between the biggest economies, the U.S. and China, was forcing countries to take sides.
“There is no stability or peace except one based on international order and respect,” said Macron, who was invited to the APEC summit as a guest by the host country, Thailand.
In her remarks to the business conference, Harris assured Asian leaders “the United States is here to stay” as she pitched Washington as a reliable economic partner committed to the region and its prosperity.
“And there is no better economic partner for this region than the United States of America,” Harris said.
APEC members account for nearly four of every 10 people and almost half of world trade. Much of APEC’s work is technical and incremental, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covering areas such as trade, forestry, health, food, security, small and medium-size enterprises and women’s empowerment.
Other APEC members include Brunei, Chile, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Apart from the French president, Thailand also invited Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of Saudi Arabia; and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was to represent ASEAN but is not attending after getting COVID-19.
The summit venue, at Bangkok’s main convention center, was cordoned off with some streets closed to traffic. Riot police stood guard behind barricades at a major intersection.
Police clashed in another area of Bangkok with protesters who took the opportunity of the APEC meeting to renew calls for democratic reforms in Thailand and accuse the government of promoting policies to APEC that favor big business over ordinary people.
Several hundred protesters gathered about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the APEC meeting site, hoping to march to the venue and hand over a letter stating their concerns.
Police blocked them, sparking a violent confrontation with some protesters tossing debris and other items at police, who then charged the crowd, shooting rubber bullets. Several people were injured and a number of arrests were made in the standoff, which lasted several hours.