BANGKOK – The United States and four other nations that walked out of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group meeting in Bangkok over the weekend underlined their support Monday for host nation Thailand, saying their protest was aimed solely at Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, as well as delegates from Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada walked out of Saturday's session of the APEC meeting just as Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s minister for economic development, was set to deliver his opening remarks.
A statement on Monday from the five nations, joined also by South Korea and Chile, said they had “unwavering support for APEC” and were “fully committed” to supporting Thailand as this year's chair. But, they said, they condemned “in the strongest term the unprovoked war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine."
The 21-member APEC forum is meant to promote economic integration and trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. In their statement, the seven countries noted that not only was the humanitarian situation in Ukraine deteriorating, its effects were also beginning to be felt in global energy and food prices.
“A rise in food insecurity, due to Russia’s invasion, is being felt around the world, and disproportionately by the most vulnerable,” they said in the statement, provided by the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.
“Reaffirming the importance of the rules-based international order that underpins an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific region, we strongly urge Russia to immediately cease its use of force and completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from Ukraine.”
Reshetnikov, meantime, said other APEC nations should look at the broad sanctions imposed upon Russia as opportunities for themselves to expand energy, food and other sectors.
“It offers opportunities … including for the economy of Thailand, opportunities for coming to the Russian market and filling in the niches that had been vacated,” he said, Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency reported. “Besides, it is also an opportunity for Russian companies, who are in active search for new markets for their products.”
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi, who took over from Tai at the APEC talks after Tai left Thailand to join President Joe Biden in Japan, told reporters in Bangkok on Monday that she couldn't say whether the walkout was a one-time event, or whether countries would shun Russia at future meetings.
“Obviously right now we’re extremely concerned about what’s going on with Ukraine and unprovoked attacks in the country, so we’ll have to wait and see how all these issues play out,” she said. "But certainly we wanted to make an important statement at this APEC meeting that that kind of action is unacceptable.”
The two-day meeting closed Sunday without a joint statement due to differences over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to Japan's trade minister Koichi Hagiuda.
“There were big differences when coordinating the wording over Russia among the member economies," Japan's Kyodo news agency reported Hagiuda said at a press conference.
In addition to Russia itself being part of APEC, members China and Vietnam both abstained from the United Nations General Assembly vote in March to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Reshetnikov told reporters after the meetings that 23 of 24 points were agreed upon, which “means APEC is still able to advance the economic agenda” of the group, and blamed those who walked out for the fact that there was no concluding joint statement.
“The only reason we haven’t reached a consensus is an attempt by some economies to politicize the forum,” he said, Russia's TASS news agency reported. “Going forward, we should focus on finding common ground, not on provoking disagreements.”
Grant Peck contributed to this story.