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September 22, 2017

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Asia-Pacific leaders urge unity amid tensions

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Asia-Pacific leaders called Saturday for unity in tackling a raft of economic challenges, as an annual summit began amid deep divisions over worsening territorial disputes and other rows.

Summit host President Vladimir Putin opened the two-day gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation bloc in the Far East Russian port of Vladivostok with a call for a renewed joint commitment to open up regional trade. Asia remains the brightest spot in the global economy but is facing challenges, and trade is the solution, Putin told fellow leaders as they began their annual "informal retreat."

"The priority goal is to fight protectionism in all its forms," Putin said.

"By getting together and lifting barriers, we encourage dynamic development of the entire Asia-Pacific region and the global economy in general. It is important to build bridges, not walls," Putin told his fellow leaders.

The 21 members of the grouping that accounts for nearly half of world trade meet every year to build goodwill in their effort to break down trade barriers.

But this year's summit began with APEC giants China, Japan and South Korea embroiled in various territorial disputes that have fanned intense nationalist flames, and with US-Chinese relations also heating up over the South China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would not hold customary bilateral summit talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao nor South Korea's Lee Myung-Bak because of Japan's separate territorial disputes with their nations.

APEC members Vietnam and the Philippines have also spoken out strongly against China in the lead-up to APEC.

They have accused their more powerful neighbor of a campaign of intimidation to enforce its claims to virtually all of the South China Sea, parts of which they contest.

Hu Calls for Controlling Tensions

Speaking at a pre-summit business forum on Saturday, Chinese President Hu Jintao called for all countries to ensure the tensions did not escalate into more serious conflicts.

"To maintain peace and stability as well as the sound momentum of economic growth in the Asia-Pacific is in the interests of all countries in the region. It is our shared responsibility," Hu said.

Nevertheless, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang later reaffirmed his country's hard-line stance against Japan over rival claims to islands in the East China Sea that are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

"(The) Japan side should face squarely the strong resolve and determination of the Chinese government and people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Qin told reporters in Vladivostok.

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