November 26, 2022

Bangkok, Thailand CNN —

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has stressed the need to reject a confrontation in Asia and warned of the risk of Cold War tensions as leaders gather for the latest of three world summits taking place in the region this month.

Xi kicked off the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Bangkok by expressing his desire for China to be the engine of regional unity in a written speech released ahead of Friday’s opening day be viewed – which also seemed to do veiled stitches in the United States.

The Asia-Pacific region is “nobody’s backyard” and must not “become an arena for great-power struggles,” Xi said in the statement, in which he also condemned “any attempt to politicize and arm” economic and trade ties.

“No attempt to wage a new Cold War will ever be permitted by the people or our times,” he added in remarks addressed to business leaders meeting alongside the summit, who did not name the US.

Xi, in a separate address to APEC leaders Friday morning as the main event began, softened his tone and called for stability, peace and the development of a “fairer world order.”

Leaders and representatives from 21 economies on both sides of the Pacific meet in the Thai capital for the two-day summit to discuss how best to boost growth in the region, which lies at the fault line of US-China competition lies and deals with regional tensions and the economic consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine.

Those challenges were felt Friday morning when North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Kim Jong Un’s regime’s second weapons test in two days amid mounting provocations from Pyongyang.

US Vice President Kamala Harris gathered on the sidelines of the summit with leaders from Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to condemn the launch in an unscheduled media briefing.

In a speech Friday to business leaders, Harris said the US has a “big stake” in the region and described America as a “strong partner” to its economies and a “key engine of global growth.”

Without mentioning China in her address, she also promoted American initiatives to counter Beijing’s regional influence, including the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework launched by Washington earlier this year and the Global Infrastructure and Investment Partnership.

“The US is here to stay,” said the vice president representing the US at the summit after President Joe Biden returned home for a family event after attending meetings surrounding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit participated in Phnom Penh. Cambodia and the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia in recent days.

Despite the rivalry between the US and China, the three summits have also provided opportunities to defuse rising tensions and strained communications between the world’s two biggest powers.

US-China relations have deteriorated sharply in recent years, with the two sides clashing over Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, North Korea and technology transfers, among other issues.

In August, following a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China fired multiple missiles into waters around the self-governing island and stepped up naval and fighter jet exercises in the area. Beijing claims the democratic island as its territory, though it has never controlled it, and has suspended a number of dialogues with the US over the visit.

A landmark meeting between Xi and Biden on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali on Monday — the first for leaders since Biden took office — ended with the two sides agreeing to strengthen communications and work together on issues like climate and food security.

After landing in Bangkok on Thursday, Chinese leader Xi met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the first meeting between leaders of the two Asian countries in almost three years. Both sides called for more cooperation after communication broke down over issues from Taiwan to the disputed islands.

At stake at the broader meeting, however, is whether leaders can reach a consensus on how to deal with Russia’s aggression in a final document, or whether disagreements among the broad grouping of nations should warrant such an outcome despite months of discussions between the APEC nations’ lower officials.

Leaders are expected to back a proposal based on a Thai government-backed initiative to promote sustainability, but the summit has seen some setbacks in the country. Thai officials dispersed crowds of protesters heading to the APEC summit venue on Friday, police said in a statement.

Protest organizer Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon said in a Facebook post that police used force, including firing rubber bullets, to stop anti-summit protesters.

And whether the heads of state and government will meet for another statement on the global economic situation remains to be seen on Friday.

French President Emmanuel Macron, invited by host country Thailand, called for consensus and unity against Moscow’s aggression in an address to business leaders on Friday morning.

“Help us convey the same message to Russia: stop the war, respect the international order and come back to the table,” he said.

Macron also called forth the US-China rivalry and warned of the risk to peace if countries were forced to choose between the two great powers.

“We need a single global order,” Macron said to applause from business leaders.