Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged US$3 billion in international aid to help developing countries recover from Covid-19 over the next three years at a virtual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum on Friday, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The informal event was convened at short notice by Apec host New Zealand for the leaders of the group’s 21 members to discuss the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The meeting was also the first time Xi and Joe Biden had appeared together virtually since the climate summit organised by the US president in April.
“China overcame its own challenge of a mass inoculation programme and provided over 500 million vaccine doses to developing countries,” Xi said.
“In the next three years, China will provide another US$3 billion in international aid, to help support the pandemic response, economic recovery and social development of developing countries,” he said.
China has also donated money to set up a Apec fund that will support Asia-Pacific economies to overcome the pandemic and achieve economic recovery, Xi said.
Xi also pushed for further economic integration in the region and the development of an Asia-Pacific free-trade zone.
He said China was one of the first countries to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which has 14 other signatories, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Xi said he expected the agreement would take effect by the end of the year.
In a nod to the host country and its indigenous Maori people, Xi ended his address with a Maori proverb: turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said ahead of the meeting that better cross-border cooperation was needed as the world battles fast-spreading variants of Covid-19 and the most severe economic downturn since World War II.
She spoke to Biden before the leaders meeting to talk about trade, Covid-19 and the pacific, and said the two countries had a “really strong relationship”, according to a post on her Facebook page.
As tensions deteriorated between China and Western countries such as Australia and the US over trade and human rights, New Zealand had hoped to act as an intermediary to repair relations.
The country was the first Western country to sign a free-trade agreement with China, which is now New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
It has sometimes opted out of joint statements objecting to Beijing’s policies issued by the other members of the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance – Australia, Britain, Canada and the US.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta offered to negotiate a truce between Australia and China in their trade dispute last year, saying that Apec would be an opportunity for conversations.
However, issues such as Hong Kong and the treatment of the Muslim minority Uygur people in China’s Xinjiang region have led New Zealand to reconsider its relationship with China.
Mahuta warned the country’s exporters to diversify their clients and protect themselves from potential retaliation by China after the country’s parliament unanimously passed a motion in May describing Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang as “severe human rights abuses”.