Protest walkout at Apec talks in Bangkok

Five countries including US and Japan leave as Russian delegate begins speaking at trade ministers’ meeting

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, centre, poses for photos with delegates at the APEC BCG Symposium 2022 in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo: Apec)

Representatives of five economies including the United States and Japan walked out of the Apec trade ministers’ meeting in Bangkok on Saturday, in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a Thai government source said.

The walkout was “an expression of disapproval at Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine and its economic impact in the Apec region”, Reuters quoted one diplomat as saying.

Representatives from Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia joined the Americans, led by Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in walking out of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, two Thai officials and two international diplomats told Reuters.

The two-day meeting by representatives of the 21 Apec economies — which include Russia — opened in Bangkok on Saturday morning, with the promotion of trade and investment in the post-Covid era high on the agenda.

The protest took place when Maksim Reshetnikov, Russia’s economic development minister, was delivering his remarks.

Another diplomat said the five countries that staged the protest wanted “stronger language on Russia’s war” in the group’s final statement to be issued on Sunday.

“The meeting will not be a failure if (a joint statement) cannot be issued,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit told reporters, adding that the meeting was “progressing well” despite the walkout.

The delegations from five countries that staged the protest returned to the meeting after Mr Reshetnikov finished speaking, a Thai official said.

The meeting at the Centara Grand and Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld is the first in-person gathering of regional trade ministers in three years, as travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic have eased.

Thai government sources had confirmed earlier that Mr Reshetnikov was likely to attend the meeting. Thailand is the current chair of Apec and is scheduled to hold a summit of the group’s leaders in November. It is not yet clear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will be attending.

On the sidelines of the Apec meeting, Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda is set to hold bilateral talks with ministers from countries including Thailand on a range of issues including the United States-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

The framework aims to encourage openness while enhancing prosperity and building the resilience of the region, according to the US government.

Its launch is expected to be formally announced during US President Joe Biden’s trip to Japan, where he will hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday.

“We would like to welcome the IPEF, as it will be a framework to strengthen the US involvement in the Indo-Pacific region,” Hagiuda told reporters in Tokyo before leaving for Bangkok.

Other issues on the agenda include food insecurity, high energy prices and the resumption of tourism.

Founded in 1989, Apec operates on the basis of nonbinding and consensus-based cooperation to discuss free trade and economic cooperation by Pacific Rim countries.

Apec groups Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.