US and China set to face off at Malaysia-chaired APEC summit

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Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Malaysia - Attendees take part in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC). - Nur Ain Shafinas/BERNAMA/dpa

US President Donald Trump has appeared as a surprise participant at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is being hosted by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Trump, whose involvement was in doubt until several hours before the 1200 GMT start time, was seen on a screen with 19 other APEC heads of government while Muhyiddin delivered his opening statement.

The meeting, usually an an annual gala attended by the leaders, is this year taking place by video link due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and is expected to last two hours.

Muhyiddin's opening remarks were broadcast live on local television but coverage stopped once he had finished. The host website appeared to crash at around the same time.

Among the other APEC leaders taking part in Friday's summit are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japan's new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Muhyiddin said that the pandemic "has had a lasting impact" on trade but added that APEC intends to "reaffirm our support for the rules-based multilateral trading system" which he described as "essential for business."

The US under Trump has sought to push back against "unfair" terms of trade.

The Malaysian leader's opening remarks come a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping told the APEC CEO Dialogues that Beijing will eschew "decoupling" and seek "high-standard free trade agreements with more countries."

Today's summit could be Trump's final shot at pushing back at Xi, who on Thursday touted China's "major strategic achievement" to both "contain the virus and speedily bring production and life back to normal."

Though Trump praised Xi the last time the two leaders spoke, which was by telephone in March, he has since blamed Beijing for what he has repeatedly termed "the Chinese virus."

According to official data the novel coronavirus has infected over 11.5 million Americans and led to more than 250,000 deaths - the most of any country.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, which has close ties with both China and the US, told the CEO Dialogues on Thursday that the US prefers "to deal with issues bilaterally" and that the Trump administration sees trade as a "win-lose proposition."