Pacific Leaders Expected to Agree On Vaccines, Fossil Fuels

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Pacific Rim leaders are expected to find common ground on improving access to coronavirus vaccines and reducing fossil fuel subsidies in their annual summit, being held virtually with New Zealand as host.

The pledges are among those likely to be included in a joint statement issued at the end of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

It was unclear Friday if the leaders would manage to agree on a U.S. bid to host APEC in 2023 after Russia raised objections.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are among the leaders taking part in the online meeting.

The deep rifts between some of the 21-member grouping were highlighted this week by a warning from Xi against allowing tensions to cause a relapse into a "Cold War" mentality -- as well as the behind-the-scenes struggle between the U.S. and Russia.

A Southeast Asian delegate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the issue, told The Associated Press that Russia had refused to support U.S. hosting the gathering unless some of its diplomats would be removed from a U.S. blacklist or allowed to enter the U.S. to participate.

The delegate said the U.S. was unlikely to agree to Russia's demands because issues involving America's security are considered "non-negotiable." The delegate added that China had stayed silent on the U.S. offer. U.S. officials also would not comment.

The delegate also described some areas where the APEC members had been able to find common ground.

Those included supporting global efforts to share vaccines equitably and expanding vaccine manufacture and supply, including through the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technology.

The delegate said members also supported improving trade in COVID-19 vaccines and related medical products, including through better digital trade and streamlined customs procedures.

Members also want to see a pragmatic, multilateral response to COVID-19 at a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting later this month, the delegate said.

In all, APEC members account for nearly 3 billion people and about 60% of the world's GDP.

Many of the countries in Asia face the challenge of balancing Chinese and U.S. influences on the economic and geopolitical fronts.

China claims vast parts of the South China Sea and other areas and has moved to establish a military presence, building islands in some disputed areas as it asserts its historic claims.

Both Taiwan and China have applied to join a Pacific Rim trade pact, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Beijing saying it will block Taiwan's bid on the basis that the democratically governed island refuses to accept that it's part of communist-ruled China.

Officials said they made significant progress during some 340 preliminary meetings. APEC members had agreed to reduce or eliminate many tariffs and border holdups on vaccines, masks and other medical products important to fighting the pandemic.