Scott Morrison says we can all get along in the Pacific, even if China and the US can't

Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty ImagesPapua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill (front, yellow shirt) hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Port Moresby on the weekend
  • After an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea failed to deliver a final joint statement of agreement, Australia says China and the United States must resolve their differences.
  • Australian PM Scott Morrison says Pacific leaders also delivered the warring Chinese and US factions a “very clear” message to get on with business.
  • The summit deteriorated – despite the signing of many deals – following a pointed speech from US Vice President Mike Pence that accused China of ‘predatory’ economic behaviour in the region.

Following an historically ill-tempered APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia says the Pacific can still get along even if China and the United States can’t.

Despite the 21 Nation bloc failing to produce a joint communique for the first time in its 25 year history, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Pacific leaders also delivered the warring Chinese and US factions a “very clear” message to get on with business, according to The Guardian.

Following a pointed speech from US Vice President Mike Pence that accused China of “predatory” economic behaviour in the region, an irate Chinese delegation stonewalled the US push to add passages to the communique on trade reforms that clearly targeted China.

Rather than dwelling on the fact that, for the first time in APEC history, leaders failed to put pen to paper on a communique, the Australian prime minister said the APEC community was still a “family” and progress had been made.

“(These differences) we are dealing with are difficult,” Morrison said from the deck of one of the Australian Navy destroyers sent to dock in Port Moresby for the duration of the summit.

“We’ve got to stop kidding ourselves everyone is going to agree all the time. I mean what family does that happen in?”

Decked out in naval attire on HMAS Adelaide, Morrison acknowledged the bitter dispute between China and the US, but insisted that the APEC summit had been a success.

“We’re all still committed to stronger trading outcomes because we understand that here in the APEC family we’ve been able to reduce tariffs, we’ve been able to increase the level and the size of our economies and that’s all welcome,” he said.

The reference to tariffs – imposed on some key imports into the US upon many countries by the current US administration – will not have been missed by both China and its antagonist as Canberra continues to navigate the treacherous waters between its key military ally and biggest trading partner, as many APEC nations must do.

But the blemish on the summit’s reputation as a friendly meeting of like-minded leaders was clear for all to see and Morrison acknowledged that the region needed, and expected, resolution through further dialogue.

“I can say very clearly that the other economies around the table here, and nations’s that sat around the East Asia Summit, it has been made very clear to both the United States and China that we want to see these issues resolved,” he said.

One winner from the weekend was PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who not only drew rich new deals – 14 alone from China – but also praise from Morrison for his handling of the summit and in particular the “testing” closing hours.

Instead of the traditional communique, Morrison said that O’Neill would draw up the final statement as host.

“The chair will issue a statement,” Morrison said, lauding O’Neill’s decision as courageous.

“I thought that took a lot of courage.”

“If the major powers here are not going to agree, we shouldn’t be pretending that they do, and we shouldn’t be trying to smooth that over for the sake of a communique, and we should call it out.”

Morrison told reporters that the meeting was “a very successful APEC,” concluding a myriad of agreements.

For its part, Australia is focusing anew on the Pacific after once again being caught between its strongest ally and its biggest trading partner.

The Australian decision to develop the Lombrum naval base at Manus Island, was backed late last week by Pence, amid a push by the traditional allies to secure access to key infrastructure and block China from a strategic toehold.

The prime minister tried to play down growing concerns that the US and China are in fact drifting further away from any kind of economic rapprochement to put an end to a trade war costing hundreds of billions of dollars.

Morrison said the issues would be raised again by both leaders at the G20 meeting in Argentina scheduled for the ned opf November.

“People have got to understand when there is not an agreement, that just means the dialogue has got to continue,” he said.

US President Donald Trump had recently been talking up his personal admiration for Xi and tweeted of his optimism of an outcome heading into Buenos Aires.

But while Trump and his Chinese counterpart are destined to finally discuss their war face to face at the G-20 in Argentina, hopes are a little dimmer that the two might be able to seek some way out of their confrontation.

It is a trade war in which Xi has warned their will “be no winners.”

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.