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APEC countries agree to launch massive new free-trade zone

The 21 members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) agreed Sunday to 'take concrete steps toward realizing a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific' in coming years.

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China has responded in kind, accusing the US of turning to quantitative easing to keep the dollar artificially low in an attempt to make its exports more competitive.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao offered little comfort to Obama, whose standing at home after a disastrous showing in the midterm elections will not have been helped by the currency fudge in Yokohama.

“Advanced economies have to cope with serious unemployment problems, while emerging-market economies are confronted with asset price bubbles and inflationary pressure,” Mr. Hu said.

The APEC leaders did, however, pledge not to resort to “competitive devaluation” of their currencies. “Advanced economies, including those with reserve currencies, will be vigilant against excess volatility and disorderly movements in exchange rates,” they said. “These actions will help mitigate the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows facing some emerging markets.”

Territorial disputes

Much of the bilateral chatter that characterizes APEC summits focused on the territorial disputes.

Kan said growing economic ties should remain unaffected by a recent row over a group of islands in the East China Sea claimed by both Japan and China.

Ties between the East Asian powers sank to their lowest level in years in September, after a Chinese fishing boat collided with Japanese Coast Guard vessels in waters near the Senkaku islands, known as the Diaoyu in China.

The unauthorized release of video footage, which appears to back claims that the fishing boat was to blame, is fomenting a nationalist backlash in Japan.

Kan risked further angering his Chinese counterpart, Hu, by reaffirming Japanese claims to the islands.

“Japan’s position is that no territorial issue exists,” he told reporters. “If you look at other countries with territorial issues, it doesn’t mean that the two countries cannot engage in economic, cultural, and people-to-people contacts.”

But as long as tension over the Senkakus persists, it appears unlikely that negotiations will resume over a disputed gas field in the East China Sea. Restarting talks on joint development of the fields would require a certain “atmosphere,” said the Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi.

Kan also protested a recent visit by Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, to one of four islands seized from Japan by the Soviet Union in the waning days of World War II.

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