Japan hosts APEC meet in shadow of rows with China, Russia

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The presidents of the United States, China and Russia were Saturday due to meet with other Pacific Rim leaders for a summit in Japan that threatens to be overshadowed by regional tensions.

US President Barack Obama and China's Hu Jintao, who flew in after a Group of 20 summit in South Korea, have sparred over currencies and trade, while Japan is embroiled in territorial spats with both China and Russia.

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, being held under tight security in Yokohama near Tokyo, is meant to push forward trade liberalisation in a region that accounts for more than half of global economic activity.

But, aside from general pledges of support for free trade, little progress is expected on forging new pacts at a time when the world economy is limping out of a deep downturn and there are fears protectionism is on the rise.

At the G20 summit, Obama, who is licking his wounds after a mid-term electoral drubbing last week, renewed the US charge that China keeps its yuan undervalued to boost its exports at the expense of American jobs.

China, Germany and other exporting nations have meanwhile charged that the US attempt to reflate its economy with a 600-billion-dollar cash injection is a back-door way to depress the greenback to gain a trading edge.

G20 nations in Seoul pledged to move "toward more market-determined exchange rate systems" and to refrain from "competitive devaluation of currencies", while also agreeing to reform the IMF and tighten banking regulations.

APEC members were due to discuss ways to bring down barriers to free trade across their region, including a US-backed treaty called the Trans Pacific Partnership that is backed by nine countries and gathering more support.

Few concrete outcomes are expected from the 21-member APEC, a regional group which makes only consensus-based and non-binding decisions and functions mainly as a forum for dialogue.

There were no announced plans, however, for formal talks between Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Hu, two months after ties between the Asian giants deteriorated badly over Japan's arrest of a Chinese fishing trawler captain.

China has launched a series of sharp diplomatic protests and punitive economic measures including, industry sources say, stopping the export of rare earth minerals that are vital for Japan's high-tech industry.

The spat has revived simmering historical animosities between Japan and China, which this year snatched the title of the world's second-biggest economy from Japan, and sparked nationalist street protests in both countries.

Japan has deployed more than 20,000 security personnel to lock down the summit venue, as anti-Chinese groups planned rallies.

The APEC host has also been embroiled in a territorial dispute with Russia after President Dmitry Medvedev made the first trip by a Russian leader to one of four disputed Pacific islands.

The China-Japan row has, meanwhile, reaffirmed a 50-year-old US-Japan alliance which has been strained by a dispute over a controversial US airbase.

Obama, in comments to a Japanese newspaper published Friday, stressed the need for stable ties among the United States, Japan and China, and called for the two Asian giants to resolve their "outstanding differences".

"The United States, China and Japan represent the world's three largest economies and, thus, we all share an interest in promoting security and prosperity with each other and throughout the region," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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