Apec leaders once again don traditional shirts at their Indonesia summit

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 11:32am

After falling out of favour during the global economic turmoil, Apec's propensity for dressing up its leaders in "silly shirts" returned with a gusto yesterday as Indonesia's guitar-strumming president led a stylish parade of Balinese design.

US President Barack Obama was a notable absentee, but Secretary of State John Kerry was there, sporting a purple shirt made of a silk-like Balinese fabric called "endek".

While the fabric was woven in Indonesia, it came from China, a win-win outcome given Apec's stated goal of tearing down trade barriers.

President Xi Jinping came in communist red while Russian President Vladimir Putin - who also dispensed with the Apec shirts tradition in Vladivostok last year - wore green.

The shirts and blouses were on display as the heads of government trooped in to greet Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the start of a summit dinner.

"After an already busy first day, and tomorrow's tight schedule, let us relax, enjoy the dinner and cultural performance tonight," Yudhoyono said before a gala performance that featured Balinese dancers and, later, a full-throated rendition of Psy's Gangnam Style by two male singers.

The Indonesian leader had already leavened the mood earlier.

Yudhoyono, who has a series of albums of love songs to his name, brought out his guitar when he learned that it was Putin's 61st birthday. Cheered on by Xi, he strummed Happy Birthday as Russia's tough-guy leader smiled broadly.

"It was a surprise," Putin said later to Yudhoyono at another function in front of reporters, adding terima kasih, Indonesian for "thank you".

The rendition recalled another bygone tradition of musical performances at a securityoriented Asia gathering which, in Hanoi in 2001, unforgettably featured then-US secretary of state Colin Powell serenading Japan's female foreign minister in the guise of a lovelorn cowboy.

The last Apec fashion show occurred in Singapore in 2009, when relatively restrained shirts by a local designer were the order of the day.

It has seen its share of fashion disasters, sometimes leaving leaders looking grim-faced at group photos.

President Bill Clinton started the tradition in 1993, handing out leather bomber jackets in Seattle.