16 Jul 2021

Hopes something 'significant' will come from APEC meeting chaired by Jacinda Ardern

8:46 am on 16 July 2021

Foreign policy watchers have high hopes for tonight's "extraordinary" APEC meeting which will bring together the globe's heavy-hitters to discuss the Covid-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at 21 June post-Cabinet conference.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is chair of the meeting. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will chair the "informal leaders' retreat" over video-conference late Friday night - the first time the Asia Pacific bloc has held such talks ahead of its regular November event.

United States President Joe Biden, China President Xi Jinping, and Russia President Vladimir Putin have all confirmed their participation.

Former trade negotiator and diplomat Charles Finny told RNZ the mere fact of their attendance would be "enormously impactful" in sending a global message.

"Just the fact it is happening is powerful," he said.

"And having joint action by APEC, should that happen, would be very, very powerful."

Finny said he hoped to see all the economies sign a pledge not to use vaccines as a form of coercion.

Alexander Gillespie, a professor of international law at Waikato University, said it was "a coup in itself" to bring together the APEC leaders on the same screen.

"This is the oil that makes the engine turn for international diplomacy," he said.

"Hopefully, something significant will come out of this meeting that will change the world in a few months time."

The talks were a key opportunity to strive for more co-operation when it came to vaccines and supply chains, Gillespie said.

Leaders were also likely to discuss proposed reform of the World Health Organisation, he said.

"You wouldn't get a major decision out of [the meeting], but what you might get is a feeling of which way the momentum may go."

Otago University professor of international relations Robert Patman said it was a "bold initiative" for New Zealand to convene such a meeting and spoke to Ardern's clout on the world stage.

"Jacinda Ardern has a lot of international political capital. She's widely liked and widely respected," Patman said.

"She's in quite a strong position to point out to great powers like China and the United States... they need to co-operate more, because the alternative model of rivalry and name-calling has not worked."

Patman said he expected Ardern would urge the economies to take a collaborative approach in the face of the global pandemic, in particular regarding vaccines.

"The stakes are high," Patman said.

In a statement issued on Monday, Ardern said she would invite the leaders to discuss "immediate measures to achieve more coordinated regional action to assist recovery".

She later told reporters not to expect any significant breakthroughs or announcements out of the discussion.

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