US President Donald Trump will follow Chinese President Xi Jinping in delivering a speech to the virtual APEC summit

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - US President Donald Trump will take part Friday in an Asia-Pacific summit as he continues to reject his election loss, a day after President Xi Jinping used the forum to hail China’s growing economic clout.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering, held online this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, brings together 21 Pacific Rim countries, accounting for about 60 percent of global GDP.

Beijing has become the main driving force behind the trade grouping after the United States began withdrawing from multilateral bodies during Trump’s presidency.

President Xi, boosted by the signing last week of the world’s biggest trade pact, gave a keynote address to the forum Thursday, hailing China as a pivot point for global commerce and vowing to keep its “super-sized” economy open.

Washington broke with its usual practice and did not send a representative to deliver a public speech at the two days of meetings, but a senior US official confirmed Trump would take part in the official summit on Friday evening.

He will deliver a speech to fellow leaders but the event is mostly closed to the media, according to officials in host country Malaysia.

It will be only the second time that Trump, who is fighting his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, has participated in APEC, the other occasion being in 2017.

Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Trump would be aiming to “present himself as ‘presidential’ on the global stage”.

“Trump would, of course, take this opportunity to present himself as a sitting president for domestic political advantage,” he told AFP.

The president would also “like to reiterate his administration’s hallmark emphasis on protectionism and in the process forestall China from claiming leadership in the global free trade agenda”, he added.

- Hard line on China -

Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the voting in the November 3 election and count were fraudulent.

His campaign has launched lawsuits challenging the vote, while his allies also sought to pressure local officials to hold off on certifying vote counts.

Trump has taken a hard line on China during his tenure, hitting the world’s number-two economy with a barrage of tariffs and tech restrictions, and a Biden administration is expected to see a more nuanced extension of Washington’s current China policy.

This year’s APEC gatherings come a week after China and 14 other Asia-Pacific countries signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest free-trade pact.

The deal, which excludes the US, is viewed as a major coup for China and further evidence that Beijing is setting the agenda for global commerce as Washington retreats.

APEC gatherings have in recent years been overshadowed by escalating trade tensions between the US and China, and leaders were unable to agree on a formal written declaration for the first at their most recent summit in 2018.

There are hopes of greater American engagement once Biden takes office next year but observers caution his priority will be fighting the US virus outbreak, the world’s worst, and healing divisions at home.

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