Peruvian president leaves Apec meeting in a huff over spy spat

By Edward Luce, FT Washington bureau chief, travelling with President Barack Obama in Singapore

Apec summits are normally remembered for the silly photo-ops of world leaders lined up in the local costumes supplied by the hosts. In Singapore’s case, this was a specially designed Peranakan-inspired blouse with a mandarin collar.

On Sunday, Mr Obama told his fellow leaders that he was “looking forward to seeing you all decked out in flowered shirts and grass skirts” in 2011 when he hosts an Apec summit in Honolulu.

But this year’s summit will also be recalled for a spying spat between Chile and Peru, which prompted Alan Garcia, Peru’s leader, to leave the summit early and fly home in a huff.

Mr Garcia’s very un-Asian tantrum followed the arrest on Saturday of a senior Peruvian air force officer on charges that he was a spy on Chile’s payroll.

The contretemps dates back to 1883 when Chile defeated Peru in the four-year “War of the Pacific” and was forced to concede maritime waters that Lima still claims to this day. Indeed, last year Peru filed a fresh claim for the mineral-rich Pacific waters with the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

It is not exactly clear how the Peruvian officer’s spying related to the maritime dispute between the two countries, although Chile was clearly seeking information about Peru’s designs on what it sees as its undisputed waters. Nor is there any record of how the other Apec leaders responded to Mr Garcia’s premature exit – and his decision to cancel a planned bilateral meeting with Michele Bachelet, president of Chile.

For its part, Chile on Saturday said Peru should not have prejudged a formal investigation into the matter. “When there are accusations of this type, governments have to be prudent and serious,” said Carolina Toha, a Chilean government spokeswoman.

Far better, we presume, to spend the time getting into fancy dress with your fellow leaders.