Chile withdrew on Wednesday as the host of an APEC summit next month at which the United States and China had been expected to sign a deal to ease trade tensions hurting the global economy, as raging street protests gripped the South American country.
The abrupt move - which came after weeks of riots over inequality in Chile that have left at least 18 people dead - left the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in disarray, with participating countries caught off-guard and no alternative venue lined up.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, fighting for his political survival, said he had taken the "painful" decision to cancel the summit, as well as a high-profile international gathering on climate change in December, to focus on restoring law and order and pushing through a new social plan. "As President to all Chileans I must always put the problems and interests of Chileans, their needs, their desires and their hopes, first," he said in a brief statement at the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago.
The APEC summit was scheduled to bring together 20 world leaders on Nov. 16-17. U.S. President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had been due to sign an interim agreement to end the 15-month-old trade war.
The cancellation might deny the two leaders a chance to meet on neutral soil soon but the Trump administration said it still expects to sign the deal with China next month. A White House official told Reuters that Chile's cancellation of the trade summit had caught the administration by surprise.
The Chilean president did not mention a possible alternative venue for the APEC summit.
Violent riots have left large parts of Santiago shut down, with the metro transport system suffering nearly $400 million in damage. A total 7,000 people have been arrested and Chilean businesses hit with losses of around $1.4 billion.