G20, APEC, ASEAN: World leaders conclude three summits in Asia — with Russia firmly on the sidelines

Bangkok, Thailand

The three main summits of world leaders that took place across Asia last week made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now on the world stage.

Putin, whose attack on Ukraine over the past nine months has devastated the European country and rocked the global economy, refused to attend any of the diplomatic meetings – and instead found himself subject to significant criticism as and international opposition to his war seemed to be hardening.

A meeting of the leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) in Bali earlier this week ended with a statement that made reference to the positions of nations expressed in other forums, including in a UN resolution that deplores “in the strongest terms” the Russian aggression against Ukraine, while seen.

And as the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ends in Bangkok on Saturday, the leaders of its 21 economies seem ready to potentially make a similar expression.

On Friday, the foreign ministers of those economies agreed for the first time after months of meetings and debate on their own joint statement, which repeated verbatim the language agreed in Bali earlier this week – and opens the way for APEC leaders to do the same. as their meeting ends on Saturday.

“The majority of members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed that it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating the existing fragilities in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” on the situation in the group.

Summit talks aside, the week also showed Putin – who is believed to have launched his invasion in an attempt to restore Russia’s supposed former glory – as increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader leaning into Moscow and does not even want to face their counterparts in the main. global meetings.

A fear of potential political maneuvers against him should he leave the capital, an obsession with personal security and a desire to avoid confrontational scenes at the top – especially when Russia is suffering heavy losses on the battlefield – were all the probable calculations that went into Putin’s assessment. , according to Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Meanwhile, he may not want to turn the unwanted attention on the handful of nations that have been friendly to Russia, for example India and China, which the leaders Putin saw in a summit in Uzbekistan in September.

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“He doesn’t want to be this toxic guy,” Gabuev said.

But even among countries that have not taken a hard line against Russia, there are signs of lost patience, if not with Russia itself, than against the effects of its aggression. Strained energy, food security issues and spiraling global inflation are now squeezing economies around the world.

Indonesia, which hosted the G20, did not explicitly condemn Russia for the invasion, but its President Joko Widodo told world leaders on Tuesday that “we have to end the war.”

India, which has been a key buyer of Russian energy even as the West has shunned Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call to “find a way to return to the path of the ceasefire” at the G20. The summit’s final statement included a sentence that read: “Today’s era should not be one of war,” language that echoes what Modi told Putin in September when they met on the sidelines of a summit of regional security in Uzbekistan.

It is less clear whether China, whose strategic partnership with Russia is strengthened by a close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has reached a change of position. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion, or even refer to it as such. Instead, he denounced Western sanctions and amplified the Kremlin’s talking points blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, although this rhetoric appeared to be somewhat muted in its domestic state-controlled media in the last months.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses G20 leaders via video link from his office in Kiev.

In the side meeting with Western leaders last week, however, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue, and, according to the reading of his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine – but these remarks are not included in China. account of the speeches.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later told Chinese state media that Xi had reiterated China’s position in his meeting with US President Joe Biden that “nuclear weapons cannot be used and a nuclear war cannot be fought.”

But observers of China’s foreign policy say its desire to maintain strong ties with Russia is likely to remain.

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“While these statements are an indirect criticism of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think they are intended to distance China from Russia,” said Brian Hart, a fellow at the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Xi is saying these things to an audience that wants to hear.

Russian isolation, however, appears even stronger against the backdrop of Xi’s diplomatic tour of Bali and Bangkok this week.

Although the Biden administration has called Beijing — not Moscow — the “most serious long-term challenge” to the global order, Xi has been treated as a valuable global partner by Western leaders, many of whom have met with the Chinese leader for talks aimed at increasing. communication and cooperation.

In an impassioned appeal for peace delivered to a meeting of business leaders taking place alongside the APEC summit in Bangkok on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to draw a distinction between Russia’s actions and tensions with China.

While referring to the US-China competition and the growing confrontation in the regional waters of Asia, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries … they have stability because of international rules,” before asking Russia to “return to the table” and “respect the international order.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with US allies in APEC following North Korea's ballistic missile launch on Friday.

The urgency of that sentiment was heightened after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland, killing two people on Wednesday, the final day of the G20 summit. As a NATO member, a threat to Polish security could trigger a response from the entire bloc.

The situation turned off after the initial investigation suggested the missile came from the Ukrainian side in an accident during missile defense – but it highlighted the potential for a miscalculation to spark a world war.

A day after that situation, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to what he called a “split screen”.

“What we see is a very telling split screen: as the world works to help the most vulnerable people, Russia targets them; as leaders around the world we reaffirm our commitment to the UN Charter and to international rules that benefit all our peoples. President Putin continues to try to crush those same principles,” Blinken told reporters Thursday night in Bangkok.

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In the week of international meetings, the United States and its allies were ready to project that message to their international peers. And while strong messages have been made, gathering consensus around that view has not been easy – and differences remain.

The G20 statement and the APEC ministerial-level statement all acknowledged the divisions between how members voted at the UN to support its resolution that “deplored” Russian aggression, and said that while most of the members have “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other opinions and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.

Even making such an expression with caveats was an arduous process at the two summits, according to officials. Indonesia’s Jokowi said the G20 leaders were up until “midnight” discussing the paragraph on Ukraine.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at APEC on November 18, 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Nations in the groupings have different geo-strategic and economic relations with Russia, which impact their positions. But another concern some Asian nations may have is whether measures to censor Russia are part of an American push to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai foreign minister Kantathi Suphamonkhon.

“Countries say we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to be used to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, a member of the advisory board of the RAND Corporation Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP). Instead, Russia’s censure around its “violation of international law and war crimes that may have been committed” will hit on aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects,” he said.

Russia’s refusal along these lines may also send a message to China, which itself has ignored an international decision that refutes its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has promised to “reunify” with the self-governing democracy of Taiwan , which is never controlled. , by force if necessary.

While this week’s efforts have increased pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience with such dynamics: before Putin’s ouster over his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, the Group of Seven bloc (G7) was the Group of Eight – and remains. to be seen if international expressions have an impact.

But without Putin in the fold, the leaders emphasized this week, the suffering will continue — and there will be a hole in the international system.


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