Asia-Pacific leaders on Friday made no reference to Russia's invasion of Ukraine or the Israel-Hamas war in their joint declaration released after an annual summit, laying bare their disunity over the two ongoing conflicts even as they sought to boost economic cooperation.
The leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum reaffirmed in San Francisco the importance of the rules-based multilateral trading system and market-driven economic integration, and said they "remain committed to improving the quality of life for all our people, and to creating a resilient and sustainable future."
Due to divisions over the conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, U.S. President Joe Biden, who hosted the summit from Wednesday, issued a separate chair's statement that does not require consensus saying that "most members strongly" condemned the aggression against Ukraine.
The 21-member group includes China and Russia, as well as Australia, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The chair's statement said they also discussed the crisis in Gaza and expressed their respective positons about the war, which erupted after a surprise attack on Israel last month by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
But Biden said "some leaders" objected to touching on the wars in their Golden Gate Declaration, saying they do not think APEC is a forum to discuss geopolitical issues.
In his concluding remarks to the leaders earlier Wednesday, Biden said the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific is "unwavering."
Before passing the torch to Peru, next year's chair of the forum, Biden said the summit had been productive and joked it could have been extended for another five days.
"America's commitment to the Asia Pacific is unwavering, and in our view, from America's perspective, essential," Biden said as his administration seeks to reinforce U.S. leadership in Asia, where China's influence has been expanding rapidly.
APEC, formed in 1989, is a forum of informal dialogue initially designed to promote multilateral free trade and economic integration, but discussions have recently expanded to new areas, such as the transition to clean energy, artificial intelligence and ways to achieve more sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told other leaders that digital technologies, including AI, will improve "trade facilitation and regional connectivity," but "it is important to properly manage risks and create an environment where everyone can benefit from the digital economy."
As with other major international fora, APEC members, collectively accounting for more than half of global trade, have found it difficult to reach unity in recent years, and especially since Russia's invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022.
APEC has failed to issue a post-meeting joint statement on multiple occasions.
Earlier this week, the forum's trade and foreign ministers had two days of discussions in San Francisco, but did not issue a consensus document, apparently due to differences among members over the invasion as well as the Israel-Hamas war.
In addition, trade restrictions implemented on national security grounds and growing calls by the United States and its allies to rework China-dependent supply chains for industrial items have cast a shadow over talks on economic integration.