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

Bangkok, Thailand

The three major summits of world leaders held across Asia last week have made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now off the world stage.

Putin, whose attack on Ukraine has devastated the European nation and rocked the global economy over the past nine months, refused to attend any of the diplomatic meetings and instead faced considerable condemnation as international opposition to his war appeared to harden.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in Bangkok concluded on Saturday with a declaration that echoed the countries’ positions expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in the “strongest terms”, while expressing differing views.

This echoes the declaration from the Group of 20 (G20) leaders’ summit in Bali earlier this week.

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

Despite the summit talks, the week has also seen Putin, who is believed to have launched his invasion in an attempt to restore Russia’s supposed former glory, increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader holed up in Moscow and unwilling to even confront colleagues in key areas. global meetings.

Fears of possible political maneuvering against him if he leaves the capital, an obsession with personal security and a desire to avoid a confrontational scene at summits – especially as Russia faces heavy losses on the battlefield – were all possible calculations used in Putin’s assessment. According to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Alexander Gabuyev.

Meanwhile, he may not want to draw unwanted attention to a handful of nations that have remained friendly to Russia, such as India and China, whose leaders Putin saw at a regional summit in Uzbekistan in September.

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

But even among countries that have not taken a hard line against Russia, there are signs of losing patience, if not with Russia itself, then with the consequences of its aggression. Energy tensions, food security issues and a global spiral of inflation are currently squeezing economies around the world.

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Indonesia, which hosted the G20, has not directly condemned Russia for the invasion, but its President Joko Widodo told world leaders on Tuesday that “we must end the war”.

India, which has been a major buyer of Russian energy even as the West has shied away from Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call at the G20 meeting to “find a way to return to the ceasefire path”. The summit’s closing declaration included a sentence that said, “Today’s era must not be one of warfare,” language that echoes what Modi told Putin in September when they met on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan.

It is less clear whether China, whose strategic partnership with Russia has been strengthened by the close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has changed its stance. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion or even refer to it as such. Instead, Western sanctions have been denounced and the Kremlin’s talking points have been stepped up, blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, although the rhetoric appears to have been dialed back somewhat in recent months in the state-controlled local media.

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

However, in emergency meetings with Western leaders this week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue and agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, according to readings from his interlocutors, but those remarks were not included in the Chinese statement. for conversations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later told Chinese state media that Xi had reiterated China’s position during a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 meeting that “nuclear weapons cannot be used and 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 unwavering.

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

However, Russia’s isolation seems even more pronounced in light of Xi’s diplomatic tours to Bali and Bangkok this week.

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

Xi exchanged views with US Vice President Kamal Harris, who is representing the US at the APEC summit in Bangkok, at the event on Saturday. Afterward, Harris said in a tweet that she noted the “key message” of Biden’s G20 meeting with Xi was the importance of keeping the lines of communication open “to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”

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

Referring to the rivalry between the US and China and the growing confrontation in Asian regional waters, Macron said: “What distinguishes this war is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries … have stability because of international rules,” before calling on Russia to return “to the table” and “respect the international order.”

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

The urgency of that sentiment increased after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland during the G20 summit on Tuesday, killing two people. Since Poland is a NATO member, a threat to Poland’s security could trigger a response from the entire bloc.

The situation was cleared after an initial investigation suggested the missile had come from the Ukrainian side in a missile defense accident, but stressed that a miscalculation could lead to a world war.

A day after the situation, US Secretary of State Anthony 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, Russia is turning against them; as leaders around the world reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people. President Putin continues to try to tear apart the same principles,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday evening.

During a week of international meetings, the United States and its allies were ready to project that message to their international counterparts. And while strong messages have been delivered, building consensus on this view has not been easy – and differences remain.

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Both the G20 and APEC declarations acknowledged differences in how member states voted at the UN to support its resolution “deploring” Russia’s aggression, saying that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other views and various assessments of the situation. sanctions.”

According to officials, even making such an expression with caveats at both summits was a difficult process. Indonesia’s Jokowi said G20 leaders were up until midnight to discuss the paragraph on Ukraine.

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

The countries of the groupings have different geostrategic and economic relations with Russia, which affect their position. But another concern some Asian countries may have is whether the move to show no confidence in Russia is part of an American effort to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai foreign minister Kanthati Suphamonkon.

“Countries are saying that we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to be used to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, an advisory board member of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia-Pacific Policy (CAPP). Instead of condemning Russia for its “violations of international law and war crimes that may have been committed,” he said, it would address aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects.”

Rejecting Russia in this way could also send a message to China, which itself has ignored an international ruling rejecting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and vowed to “reunify” with the self-governing democracy of Taiwan, which it never controlled. , if necessary, by force.

While this week’s efforts may have increased pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience with this dynamic: Before Putin’s ouster over the 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, the Group of Seven (G7) was the Group of Eight — and still is. to see if international expressions will have an effect.

But without Putin in the fold, leaders this week stressed that the suffering would continue – and there would be a hole in the international system.

This story has been updated with new information.


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