War on terror 'will not dominate talks'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 12:00am

US President George W. Bush has sought to reassure China, hosts of this year's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum, that the long-planned summit will not be dominated by the US-led drive against terrorism.

Ahead of Mr Bush's planned departure for Shanghai, US National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice said the group's traditional focus on trade and economic liberalisation would not be allowed to disappear.

Delegates at the 21-member summit are expected to endorse a US-drafted anti-terrorism declaration this weekend. But China, together with some fellow Asian Apec states, said Apec's traditional focus on trade and development should not be left behind.

At a Washington briefing, Ms Rice said the President 'feels really strongly that that's an agenda [on trade and investment] that's got to keep going because, ultimately, stability and a kind of . . quarantine against some of this [terrorism] will come from a stronger, more prosperous world'.

Such remarks are likely to ease fears among mainland officials, who have at times struggled to keep trade-related issues at the forefront.

In the run-up to the week-long event, which opened on Monday, US officials repeatedly said the so-called war on terrorism was their 'No 1 priority'.

'As you know, it's been a slowing global economy, and so this is an opportunity to spur, through discussions with key leaders there, strong economic global recovery and what can be done to that,' Ms Rice said.

The loose-knit grouping, founded in 1989, has as its primary commitment a pledge by developed member states to implement free trade and investment by 2010. Developing states have until 2020 to meet the deadline.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, who took charge of the early stages of the Apec sessions, said members would this week reaffirm their commitment to those aims - known as the Bogor Goals - in a 'Shanghai Accord'.

'To discuss anti-terrorism issues is the common wish of all the member economies, not just the desire of the United States,' Mr Wang said. 'But we won't change Apec's role as an economic forum, since the main objective of Apec is to promote economic change.'

Despite the reassurances, the debate about whether Apec will graft an overtly political role on to its less controversial focus on trade is unlikely to end.

In the run-up to this week's gathering, Helen Clark, New Zealand Prime Minister, made a blunt call for the body to extend its remit. 'You can't just put a ring around economics and say that is all it discusses . . . issues that are not strictly economic must come on to the agenda because you have a major regional meeting and it would be absurd for it not to be discussed,' she said.

Officials in Shanghai said Japan was also keen to ensure this year's forum did not become totally distracted by the campaign against the Taleban. Economic growth in the world's second-largest economy, which has performed poorly for the past decade, has again sputtered to a halt.

Mr Wang said Apec leaders and ministers would also call for a new round of global trade talks next month at the World Trade Organisation's planned meeting in Qatar.




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