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Calling Singapore "an inspiration to the entire world" for its rapid progress as a nation in just 53 years, Pence hailed the close economic defence ties between the two countries.

Xi urged the world to "say no to protectionism and unilateralism", warning it was a "short-sighted approach and it is doomed to failure". The Chinese products hit by Trump's tariffs can mostly be replaced by other goods, forcing exporters to cut selling prices to keep buyers.

China and the USA yesterday crossed swords ahead of an APEC summit, dueling over protectionism, trade tariffs and "checkbook diplomacy" as they laid out sharply contrasting visions for the Pacific Rim region.

China slapped 25 per cent tariffs on American soybeans - its single largest import from the USA - and other products in July immediately after Donald Trump fired at US$50 billion in Chinese imports.

"We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road", Pence said in an apparent reference to China's Bet and Road initiative.

Saturday's summit of CEOs is the precursor to the official leaders' meeting, which will take place on Sunday.

In a rebuke to China, Pence met with the representative from Taiwan, a self-governing island which China considers to be part of its own territory.

Xi also defended his country's massive "Belt and Road" infrastructure initiative amid attacks that it is akin to "chequebook diplomacy" to further Chinese interests in the region.

"No developing country will fall into debt difficulties because of cooperation with China", Hua said. The US has signed but has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). We don't coerce, corrupt, or compromise your independence.

Speaking in Beijing today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the United States attended APEC in a "blaze of anger", causing disputes and disagreements and damaging the "harmonious atmosphere" of the meeting.

"It is not created to serve any hidden geopolitical agenda, it is not targeted against anyone and it does not exclude anyone. nor is it a trap as some people have labelled it", he said.

"The benefits of free and fair trade and economic integration have been ruptured, exemplified by Brexit and trade wars between major economies", Mahathir said.

"The South China Sea doesn't belong to any one nation, and you can be sure: The United States will continue to sail and fly wherever global law allows and our national interests demand", Pence said. The question has come up so much, they say, that some of his advisers have become "alarmed'".

They said: "It's not even supposed to be binding, it's APEC".

Sputnik discussed Mr Pence's criticism of China's actions in the South China Sea with Bill Hayton, associate fellow at Chatham House's Asia program and author of "The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia".

President Donald Trump is succeeding in making China pay most of the cost of his trade war.

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