- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The president of Chile on Wednesday canceled two major international summits in Santiago scheduled for next month in the face of widespread, at times violent street protests, forcing the White House to search for another site where President Trump could meet with China’s president to sign a partial trade deal.

In a country long seen as one of the most stable and successful in South America, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera canceled plans to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit that was to be held in Santiago on Nov. 16-17. He also withdrew the country as host of the COP25 climate summit in early December.

“This has been a very difficult decision, a decision that causes us a lot of pain, because we fully understand the importance of APEC and COP-25 for Chile and for the world,” Mr. Pinera said the presidential palace in Santiago. “But we have based our decision on common sense. A president needs to put his people above everything else.”

Sparked at first by a modest rise in subway fares earlier this month, riots, arson and protests over inequality and government austerity programs have left at least 18 dead, 7,000 arrested and Chilean businesses facing losses of around $1.4 billion. The capital city’s metro public transport suffered nearly $400 million in damages.

With the conservative Mr. Pinera’s popularity at an all-time low, disgruntled Chileans were calling for new protests and the United Nations was sending a team to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

Opposition and pro-government parties in Chile generally welcomed the president’s decision, the Associated Press reported, saying that having the summits was unrealistic given the country’s turmoil.

Mr. Trump had been scheduled to attend the APEC summit of Pacific Rim nations, in part to sign “phase one” of a trade agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping. With world markets nervously hanging on any sign of progress in talks between the two economic giants, Mr. Trump said this week that talks on a modest first-step agreement were “ahead of schedule” as the two sides seek to resolve their long-running tariff war.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said APEC organizers don’t have an alternative site lined up yet, and the U.S. is “awaiting potential information regarding another location.”

“We look forward to finalizing Phase One of the historic trade deal with China within the same time frame, and when we have an announcement, we’ll let you know,” Mr. Gidley said.

Under the tentative deal, the Trump administration had agreed to suspend tariff hikes on $250 billion in Chinese imports, and Beijing had agreed to step up purchases of U.S. farm products. Many of the more far-reaching demands from Washington for structural change in China’s economy are still far down the road.

Mr. Pinera also said Chile also would be unable to host the global U.N. global climate gathering planned for Dec. 2-13 “thanks to the difficult circumstances that the country has seen in recent weeks.”

Chile has seen 13 days of massive protests to demand greater economic equality and better public services. The demonstrations have been accompanied by some vandalism and arson, which forced the shutdown of numerous subway stations.

U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa issued a statement saying that “alternative hosting options” were being explored. The Santiago climate conference was focused on the remaining unresolved rules for countries to fight global warming, setting the stage of a bigger push next year to prod countries to boost their emissions-cutting goals.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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