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    Nov 19, 2015

    China, US snipe over TPP, South China Sea


    CHINA and the United States yesterday traded indirect barbs in Manila, with one side taking swipes at the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and the other pressuring Beijing to stop constructing islands in the South China Sea.

    Chinese President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Barack Obama were in the Philippine capital with leaders from 19 other countries to attend the annual two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit.

    The summit proper opened last evening at the Philippine International Convention Centre, and was preceded by a four-minute walk over a red carpet.

    Philippine online portal InterAksyon observed that Philippine President Beningo Aquino III ignored Mr Xi and chatted only with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as the trio led the way to the venue.

    The Philippines and China are among six claimants in the South China Sea, with Beijing being the only one having overlapping claims with all the rest.

    In his opening speech yesterday, Mr Aquino said the Apec summit would be a venue to discuss key regional topics such as the next step towards an all-inclusive Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), reported InterAksyon.

    But earlier in the day, Mr Xi, without naming the TPP, told the Apec CEO summit that the FTAAP, which he pushed for last year at the Beijing Apec summit, might be "fragmented" by sub-regional trade deals that have cropped up.

    The annual Apec CEO summit brings together the world's business executives and Asia-Pacific leaders to discuss free trade and investment.

    Mr Xi called for the launch of the FTAAP, which is at the preliminary planning stage, to be speeded up, the US-based International Business Times news website reported.

    Last month, the US reached an agreement on the TPP pact with 11 Asia-Pacific economies, including Singapore.

    China is excluded from the TPP, ostensibly part of US' attempt to ramp up influence in the region and counter its rise, said Agence France-Presse.

    As Mr Xi spoke at the CEO meeting, leaders from the 12 TPP signatories, including Mr Obama, met and extolled the pact's economic benefits.

    In a statement released after their meeting, the leaders heralded the "high-standard" pact as offering a "new and compelling model for trade".

    Earlier, Mr Obama also called for efforts to stop land reclamation works by countries, particularly China, in the South China Sea after a meeting with Mr Aquino.

    Beijing has turned a series of reefs and outcrops in disputed waters into artificial islands said to be capable of hosting facilities with military purposes.

    In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday that it is the US that is heightening tensions in the South China Sea.

    Mr Hong added that China's construction work in the contested areas was "lawful, justified and reasonable".