President Joe Biden on Thursday made America’s case to national leaders and CEOs attending the Asia-Pacific summit that the United States is committed to high standards in trade and to partnerships that will benefit economies across the Pacific.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he declared.
Fresh off his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden also told business leaders that the U.S. was “de-risking and diversifying” but not “decoupling” from Beijing. But he did not mince words in suggesting the U.S. and friends in the Pacific could offer businesses a better option than China. He also noted that U.S. economies had invested some $50 billion in fellow Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation economies in 2023, including in clean energy technologies, aviation and cybersecurity.
“This is not all kumbaya but it’s straightforward,” Biden said. “We have real differences with Beijing when it comes to maintaining a fair and level economic playing field and protecting your intellectual property.”
Biden sought to send a clear message about American leadership as business leaders grapple with the risks of doing businesses in the midst of wars in the Middle East and Europe and a still shaky post-pandemic economy. He was also spending time Thursday letting Indo-Pacific leaders know that the U.S. is committed to nurturing economic ties throughout the region.
The president also met jointly Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the summit.
The meeting comes less than three months after Biden hosted Kishida and Yoon for a historic summit at the Camp David presidential retreat. Japan and South Korea have been historically bitter rivals, but the two leaders have sought to look past decades of tension because of shared concerns about growing regional threats from North Korea and an increasingly assertive China. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Biden in his remarks to the CEOs sought to highlight his administration’s efforts to strengthen ties with the region. APEC members have invested $1.7 trillion in the U.S. economy, supporting some 2.3 million American jobs. U.S. companies, in turn, have invested about $1.4 trillion in APEC economies.
Later, during talks with APEC leaders at a working lunch, Biden spoke about efforts funded by his Inflation Reduction Act to fight climate change and improve sustainability and clean energy infrastructure in the U.S. At a dinner for the APEC delegations, he challenged his fellow leaders to “harness the power of the Pacific” for a “future of greater prosperity and dignity for all.”
The U.S. hasn’t hosted the annual leaders’ summit — started in 1993 by President Bill Clinton — since 2011. The group met virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Leaders did gather in Bangkok last year, but Biden skipped the summit because his granddaughter was getting married, and he sent Vice President Kamala Harris in his place.
The annual conference brings together heads of nations and other top economic and diplomatic leaders. Biden told those who gathered Wednesday evening at a welcome party that today’s challenges were unlike those faced by previous APEC leaders.
Biden also sought to underscore that he was seeking to responsibly manage the United States’ strained relationship with China one day after he and Xi sat down for more than four hours of talks at bucolic Filoli Estate outside of San Francisco.
“A stable relationship between the world’s two largest economies is not merely good for the two economies but for the world,” Biden said. “A stable relationship. It’s good for everyone.”
Demonstrations in and around APEC continued Thursday. Hours before leaders were to gather at the Moscone Center for the summit, protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war were detained by police after shutting down all traffic over a major commuting bridge heading into San Francisco.
After decades of trade built on the premise of keeping prices low, accessing new markets and maximizing profits, many companies are now finding a vulnerable global economy. The Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas conflicts aren’t helping matters.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed frailties in their supply chains. Climate change has intensified natural disasters that can close factories. The Israel-Hamas war and Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion have generated new financial risks, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence could change how companies operate and displace workers.
Xi too, met with American business leaders — at a $2,000-per-plate dinner Wednesday evening. It was a rare opportunity for the business leaders as they seek clarification on Beijing’s expanding security rules that could choke foreign investment.
“There is plenty of room for our cooperation, and we are fully able to help each other succeed and achieve win-win outcomes,” he told them, according to an English-language translation.
Xi did not address the APEC CEOs meeting but instead sent a lengthy “written speech” in which he wrote that “forcing uniformity will not advance cooperation in the region” and declared that China was looking for stability during a moment of “turbulence and change” in the world.
“The region cannot and should not be an arena for geopolitical rivalry, still less should it be plunged into a new cold war or camp-based confrontation,” Xi wrote.
Separately, Xi on Wednesday signaled that China would send the U.S. new giant pandas, just a week after three from the Smithsonian National Zoo were returned to China, much to the dismay of Americans. There are only four pandas left in the United States, at the Atlanta Zoo.
Biden and Xi understand that the complicated ties between the two nations have major global impacts. Their meeting Wednesday at a Northern California estate was in part an effort to show the world that while they are global economic competitors, the U.S. and China aren’t rivals seeking conflict.
Xi, though, was gloomy about the state of the post-pandemic global economy. China’s economy remains in the doldrums, with prices falling due to slack demand from consumers and businesses.
“Industrial and supply chains are still under the threat of interruption, and protectionism is rising,” Xi said. “All these are grave problems.”
White House officials said Biden has been bolstered by signs that the U.S. economy is in a stronger position than China’s and that the U.S. was building stronger alliances throughout the Pacific.
Part of that is through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, announced during a May 2022 trip to Tokyo. It came six years after the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was signed by 12 countries.
The new framework has four major pillars: supply chains, climate, anti-corruption and trade. There won’t be any official trade deals to announce — the “framework” label allows Biden to bypass Congress on any agreements reached with the 13 countries. Biden celebrated that work on three of the four pillars had been completed.
“Put simply, my colleagues and I are driving a race to the top, among nations in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said.
While U.S. allies are still are looking to hammer out comprehensive trade agreements with Washington, Biden administration officials are underscoring that IPEF has helped the U.S. and partners take action at a far faster clip than traditional trade deals.
“Most trade negotiations take years to complete,” said Mike Pyle, Biden’s deputy national security adviser for international economics. “The issues that are at the cutting edge of the global economic conversation, issues like supply chains, clean energy, good government —- we have struck agreements around them in just 18 months, with a full set of IPEF partners.”