BANGKOK, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific leaders gathered in Bangkok on Friday for a summit to discuss economic hardship, but their schedule was disrupted by a suspected North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test, while police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
US Vice President Kamala Harris convened a meeting of leaders from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Canada and New Zealand on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to discuss the launch of the missile.
A summit security official said police fired rubber bullets to disperse around 350 anti-Thai government protesters after a clash about 10 km (6 miles) from the summit venue in the capital, Bangkok.
APEC host Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha previously urged summit participants to seek sustainable growth and development after economic and social challenges related to COVID, climate change and geopolitical rivalries.
“We can’t live like we used to. We have to adjust our outlook, our lifestyles and our ways of doing business,” he told an audience that included Harris and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Created to promote economic integration, APEC brings together 21 economies representing 38% of the world’s population, 62% of gross domestic product and 48% of trade.
Prayuth did not refer to the North Korean missile, which Japanese officials said landed just 200 km (130 miles) off Japan and had sufficient range to reach the American mainland.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Bangkok for the APEC meeting, told reporters that North Korea had “repeated its provocations with unprecedented frequency”.
The APEC gathering is the third summit in the region in the past week. A Southeast Asia summit that included China, Japan and the United States was held in Cambodia while the Group of 20 (G20) countries met on the Indonesian island of Bali.
Early meetings were dominated by the war in Ukraine as well as tensions around Taiwan and the Korean peninsula.
Activists are keen for leaders to tackle food insecurity, soaring inflation, climate change and human rights.
A reminder of those grassroots demands came as anti-government protesters clashed with police after they tried to overturn a police cruiser covered in posters of Prayuth and Xi.
Videos on social media showed protesters trying to overturn a police cruiser, throwing projectiles and charging at police, while officers in riot gear advanced towards them with shields and pushed them back with batons.
Police said they used rubber bullets to disperse activists and arrested 10 people.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said on Thursday that the APEC meeting comes at a “pivotal moment” as the world faces multiple risks.
“That’s why APEC this year must rise to these challenges and bring hope to the whole world,” he said in a statement.
Xi, warning of Cold War tensions in a region that is at the center of competition between Beijing and Washington, said on Thursday that the Asia-Pacific was no one’s backyard and should not become an arena of great-power rivalry,
“No attempt to wage a new Cold War will ever be allowed by the people or by our times,” Xi said in written remarks 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, the removal of Hong Kong’s autonomy and disputes over the South China Sea, among others.
In a move that may be seen by Beijing as a provocation, a senior US official said Harris would travel to the Philippine islands of Palawan on the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday.
The trip will make Harris the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island chain adjacent to the Spratly Islands. China has dredged the seabed to build ports and airstrips on the Spratleys, parts of which are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
At the G20 meeting, the countries unanimously adopted a statement that said most members condemned the war in Ukraine, but also recognized that some countries viewed the conflict differently.
Russia is a member of both 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.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is also among those present at the main meeting, while French President Emmanuel Macron is a special guest.
Xi held a rare summit with Japan’s Kishida in Bangkok, the first leaders-level meeting between China and Japan in nearly three years, after which Kishida said he raised concerns about peace in the the Taiwan Strait.
China’s CCTV reported that Xi told Kishida that the Taiwan issue involves the political foundation of ties between their two countries and that territorial disputes should be properly handled. The meeting came a day after tensions simmered in Bali, where Xi slammed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for alleged leaks of their closed-door meeting, a rare public display of annoyance from Xi. Trudeau is also in Bangkok.
Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Poppy McPherson, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panu Wongcha-um in Bangkok, writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Robert Birsel
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