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 over the past week have made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now marginalized on the world stage.

Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine has devastated the European country and rocked the global economy over the past nine months, has refused to attend any diplomatic meetings and instead found himself under severe pressure as international opposition to his war intensified.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in Bangkok ended on Saturday with a declaration that echoed the nations’ stances at other forums, including a UN resolution expressing “in the strongest terms” concern over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. , indicates. different views.

It echoes the announcement by the Group of 20 (G20) leaders in Bali earlier this week.

“Most members have strongly condemned the war in Ukraine, stressing that it is causing great human suffering and exacerbating the existing vulnerability of the global economy,” he added, adding that there were “different opinions” about the situation within the group.

Discussions in the framework of the summits aside, the week also showed that Putin, who is believed to have launched his offensive to restore Russia’s supposed former glory, while the Russian leader is holed up in Moscow and does not even want to face his counterparts. to be world meetings.

Fears of possible political maneuvers against him if he leaves the capital, the obsession with personal security and a desire to avoid confrontational scenes at summits — especially with Russia facing heavy losses on the battlefield — were all likely accounts for Putin’s assessment. , according to Alexander Gabuyev, senior staff member of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

At the same time, he may not want to draw unwanted attention to the few nations that remain friends with Russia, such as India and China, whose leaders Putin met at a 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 toward Russia, there are signs of losing patience, if not with Russia itself, then with its aggressive consequences. Stressful energy, food security issues and rising global inflation are currently straining the world’s economies.

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Indonesia, which hosted the G20 summit, did not explicitly condemn Russia for the aggression, 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 while the West has shunned Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call at the G20 to “find a way back to the ceasefire.” The summit’s final declaration included the phrase “the era of today should not be one of war,” which Modi said to Putin in September when they met on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Uzbekistan.

It is less clear that China, whose strategic partnership with Russia is strengthened by the close relationship between President Xi Jinping and Putin, has entered any position. Beijing has long refused to condemn this aggression and even called it as such. Instead, it criticized Western sanctions and reinforced Kremlin talking points that blame the US and NATO for the conflict, although that rhetoric has been somewhat echoed in its state-controlled domestic media in recent months.

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

Meanwhile, in sideline meetings with Western leaders last week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue and, according to his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but this statement was not included in the Chinese statement. account of negotiations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi later told Chinese state media that Xi Jinping reiterated China’s position that “nuclear weapons will not be used and there will be no nuclear war” during a meeting with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20.

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

“While these statements are an indirect criticism of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think their intent is to distance China from Russia,” said Brian Hart, fellow on the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Si speaks these words to an audience that wants to hear them.”

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But Russia’s isolation seems even more acute in the wake of Xi’s diplomatic trip to 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 valued global partner by Western leaders, many of whom have met with the Chinese leader for talks aimed at boosting their ties. communication and cooperation.

On Saturday, Xi exchanged views with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who represents the US at APEC, according to Chinese state media and a White House official. Harris echoed Biden’s message about the importance of keeping the lines of communication open, which he expressed at the G20 meeting with Xi, the official said.

In a sharp appeal for peace to a meeting of business leaders, which will be held alongside the APEC summit in Bangkok on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to draw a contrast between Russia’s actions and tensions with China.

Referring to the rivalry between the US and China and the increase in tensions in the regional waters of Asia, Macron said: “What is different about this war is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries … are stable because of international rules,” before calling on Russia to “return to the table” and “respect the international order”.

US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with US allies at APEC on Friday following North Korea's ballistic missile launch.

That sentiment was heightened after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland on Tuesday, killing two people during the G20 summit. As a NATO member, a threat to Poland’s security could trigger a bloc-wide response.

The situation after the initial investigation confirmed that the missile came from Ukraine in an accident during missile defense, but highlighted the possibility of a miscalculation for the outbreak of a world war.

A day after the situation, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken referred to what he called a “split screen”.

“What we see is a very interesting screen: when the world is working to help the most vulnerable people, Russia is targeting them; as world leaders reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all our people. President Putin continues to try to undermine those same principles,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday night.

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During the week of international meetings, the US and its allies were ready to present this message to their international counterparts. And while strong messages have been delivered, gathering consensus around this view has not been easy – and differences remain.

The G20 and APEC declarations both acknowledged differences between how members at the UN supported a resolution that “condemned” Russia’s aggression, saying that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “other views and assessments different about the situation and sanctions.”

According to officials, even making such a statement with notice in both meetings was a difficult process. Indonesia’s Jokowi said G20 leaders have until “midnight” to discuss the Ukraine issue.

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

The countries of these groups have various geostrategic and economic relations with Russia, which affect their position. But another concern some Asian countries may have is whether Russia’s retaliatory measures are part of a U.S. effort to weaken Moscow, said Kantati Suphamongkhon, a former Thai foreign minister.

“Countries are saying that we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to be used to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhan, a member of the RAND Corporation’s Center for Asia-Pacific Policy (CAPP) advisory board. Instead, criticism of Russia revolves around “violations of international law and war crimes that may have been committed,” hitting on aspects of the situation that “everyone here denies.”

Russia’s refusal to do so could send a message to China, which itself rejected 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 has never controlled. . , if necessary, by force.

While this week’s efforts may increase pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience with this dynamic: Before Putin’s ouster over Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Group of Seven (G7) bloc was, and remains, the Group of Eight. it will be seen whether international expressions have an effect.

But without Putin this week, leaders stressed that the suffering will continue and the international system will be torn apart.

This story has been updated with new information.


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