Leaders of Asia-Pacific nations failed to agree a joint communique after a summit for the first time on Sunday after police had to be called when trade tensions between the US and China boiled over in Papua New Guinea.
Insiders said the sticking point was US demands to include reference to reforming the World Trade Organisation and “unfair trade practices” - which Beijing took as an unsubtle dig.
When Chinese diplomats turned up unannounced to persuade Papua New Guinea’s foreign minister to back their wording, things turned ugly.
Rimbink Pato refused to meet them.
“Police were posted outside the minister’s office after they tried to barge in,” one source privy to summit negotiations told the AFP news agency, requesting anonymity.
Instead of a leaders’ declaration backed by the 21 members of the the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), Peter O'Neill, prime minister of Papua New Guinea, said he would issue a chairman’s statement.
It marks the first time in Apec’s 29-year history that its members have not been able to agree.
“You know the two big giants in the room,” Mr O’Neill said diplomatically when asked which nations could not agree.
East-West tensions were on display from the outset of the summit, with the two blocs manoeuvring for influence.
Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, was feted by PNG officials when he arrived on Thursday to pitch his Belt and Road initiative to Pacific island nations. The programme offers investment in infrastructure to less developed countries.
In response, Mike Pence, US vice president, warned smaller countries not to be seduced by Chinese money that comes with strings.
The US and its allies, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, countered with a $1.7 billion (£1.3 billion) plan to deliver reliable electricity and the internet to PNG.
China came away with at least one success. A Tongan official said it had signed up to the initiative and had been given a five-year deferral on loan repayments, as Chinese officials insisted they did not add to the burden on small countries.