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Rising China, geopolitical tensions take stage at APEC
[BEIJING] World leaders including Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin converge Monday on Beijing for an Asia-Pacific summit against the backdrop of a US-Russian chill and the inexorable rise of the meeting's increasingly assertive host.
The gathering is the biggest event yet hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who took over last year and who spotlighted his massive country's expanding world profile on Sunday by declaring a bright future ahead for the vibrant Pacific Rim - with a confident China at its heart.
The annual two-day summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) countries is a rare chance for such a wide range of top leaders to be in the same room, and the pledges of amity and trade convergence are typically balanced by tense sideline exchanges on festering geo-political problems.
China and Japan's historically frosty relations are at their lowest point in decades over competing claims to Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea that have raised the spectre of clashes at sea.
But the world's second- and third-largest economies agreed Saturday on a four-point accord to improve ties, fuelling speculation that Mr Xi and his counterpart Shinzo Abe could meet in Beijing in the first top-level encounter in nearly three years.
The presence of Mr Obama and Mr Putin promises to be awkward, with Russia under Western pressure and economic sanctions over its seizure of the Crimea this year and its role in a separatist war in eastern Ukraine.
Mr Obama and Mr Putin are not expected to hold talks, but Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to confront the Russian strongman over Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was brought down over eastern Ukraine in July, with 38 Australians among the 298 dead.
The West has accused pro-Russian rebels of blasting it out of the sky with a missile and Moscow of impeding an investigation. Russia denies the accusations.
China and the United States also have jousted over differing visions of how to achieve Asia-Pacific trade integration, adding to persistent discord over commerce, human rights, US accusations of Chinese cyber-espionage, and the territorial disputes.
Beijing's growing territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea also has rankled rival claimants to parts of the strategic waterway.
It will be all smiles, however, when the Apec leaders gather Monday for the annual "family photo," typically wearing the host's national dress. This year's fashion choice remains a mystery.
The event culminates on Tuesday with a formal leaders' summit.
China is hosting APEC for the first time since 2001, when it was still re-emerging as a world economic power.
But in a speech Sunday, Mr Xi underlined how much has changed by offering his vision of an "Asia-Pacific dream" in which China's continued rise offers "infinite promise" to all.