The US and China continued a kind of prewar ritual during the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit held in Papua New Guinea at the weekend. For the first time since 1993 the summit failed to produce a formal written declaration because of a stand-off between “western powers pushing back" against China’s increased influence in the world, according to The Australian newspaper. The reported dispute was between Mike Pence, US President Donald Trump’s deputy, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Details of the confrontation filtered through the newswires over the weekend. I should say “through the internet”, but I am of a generation that remembers standing at a bank of tickers spilling long sheets of news reports from around the world on to the newsroom floor. On the surface, the dispute was about regional influence, international economic relations, global co-operation and the multilateral system, especially the rules that underpin the World Trade Organisation. A deeper issue at stake...

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