Delegates from the United States and four other nations staged a walkout Saturday when a representative from Russia began his opening remarks at a meeting of trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in the Thai capital, officials said.
A Japanese official said Japan’s Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda and his counterparts from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Canada walked out of the meeting in Bangkok to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
A statement from the office of New Zealand Trade and Export Growth Minister Damien O’Connor said he walked out “in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has slowed the region’s economic recovery from COVID and made it harder for people in the region to get food on their tables. He walked out in good company.”
A spokesperson for Canada’s Trade Minister Mary Ng confirmed to Global News that the minister walked out of the annual meeting during Russia’s intervention.
“Canada has already taken many actions to hold Russia accountable for its devastating invasion of Ukraine, including severe sanctions against Putin and those who enable him – but we must keep the pressure on, “ the spokesperson said.
A U.S. official in Bangkok confirmed the walkout but did not provide further details. He asked not to be identified. There is diplomatic sensitivity over speaking about the incident because the proceedings were held in closed session. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is representing Washington at the meeting.
Thailand is this year’s host nation for meetings of APEC, which comprises 21 economies. The two-day trade ministers meeting ends Sunday.
The walkout occurred just as Maxim Reshetnikov, Russia’s minister for economic development, was set to deliver his opening remarks, said a Southeast Asian diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said the delegates of the five protesting nations and their staff walked out together in what appeared to clearly be a planned action, and returned after Reshetnikov completed his remarks.
Western nations have imposed tough diplomatic and economic sanctions on Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine, but many of APEC member nations, especially in Southeast Asia and Latin America, have distanced themselves from such moves. The war in Ukraine has raised major trade issues because it has disrupted supply chains, especially in the food sector.
APEC was launched in 1989 to boost growth by promoting economic integration and trade among its members.
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand and David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this report.
— With files from Global News