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 that took place across Asia last week have made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now on the sidelines of the world stage.

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

A meeting of Group of 20 (G20) leaders in Bali earlier this week ended with a statement that echoes the nations’ positions expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution deploring “in the stronger terms” the Russian aggression against Ukraine, although he points out the differences. views

And as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit arrives in Bangkok on Saturday, the leaders of its 21 economies appear poised to make a similar statement.

On Friday, the foreign ministers of those economies agreed for the first time after months of meetings and debates on their own joint statement, which echoed verbatim the language laid out in Bali earlier this week, and opens the way for APEC leaders to do the same. since 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 existing fragilities in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” about the situation within the group.

Apart from the discussions inside the summits, the week has also shown that Putin, who is believed to have launched his invasion in a bid to restore Russia’s supposed former glory, is increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader isolated in Moscow and not even willing to face their counterparts in the main ones. global meetings

The fear of possible political maneuvers against him should he leave the capital, the obsession with personal security and the desire to avoid confrontational scenes at summits, especially when Russia faces heavy losses on the battlefield , were likely 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 focus unwanted attention on the handful of nations that have remained friends with Russia, such as India and China, whose leaders Putin saw at a summit in Uzbekistan in September.

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“He doesn’t want to be that toxic guy,” Gabuev 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, than with the side effects of its aggression. Strained energy, food security issues and spiraling global inflation are squeezing economies around the world.

Indonesia, which hosted the G20, has not explicitly 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 key buyer of Russian energy even as the West shunned Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call to “find a way to get back on the ceasefire path ” at the G20. The summit’s final statement includes a line that reads: “Today’s era must not be one of war” echoing 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 bolstered by a close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has come to any change of stance. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion, or even refer to it as such. Instead, he has denounced Western sanctions and amplified the Kremlin’s talking points by blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, although this rhetoric appears to have been brought back a bit in his domestically controlled media. the state in recent months.

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

However, in fringe meetings with Western leaders last week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue and, read by his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of ‘nuclear weapons in Ukraine, but these observations are not included in China. account of the conversations.

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 unbending.

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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 them.”

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

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

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

Referring to the competition between the United States and China and the increased confrontation in Asia’s regional waters, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is an aggression against international rules . All countries … have stability because of international rules,” before calling for Russia to “return to the table” and “respect the international order.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with US allies at 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 bloc-wide response.

The defused situation after the initial investigation suggested the missile came from the Ukrainian side in an accident during missile defense, but highlighted the potential of a miscalculation to spark a world war.

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

“What we are seeing is a very telling split screen: while the world is working to help the most vulnerable people, Russia is targeting them; as leaders around the world, we reaffirmed our commitment to the United Nations Charter and international rules that benefit all our people. President Putin continues to try to tear those same principles apart,” Blinken told reporters Thursday night in Bangkok.

Coming into the week of international meetings, the US and its allies were ready to project this message to their international peers. And while strong messages have been made, gathering consensus around this vision has not been easy, and there are differences.

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The G20 statement and the APEC ministerial-level statement acknowledge the divisions between how members voted at the UN to support its resolution that “deplores” Russian aggression, saying that while the majority of members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other points of view and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.

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

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

The nations of the groupings have various geostrategic and economic relations with Russia, which affect their positions. But another concern some Asian nations may have is whether moves to censor Russia are part of a US push to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai foreign minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon.

“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 Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP) at the RAND Corporation. Instead of framing the censure of Russia around its “violation of international law and war crimes that may have been committed” it would touch on aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects,” he said.

Russia’s rejection of this line may also send a message to China, which itself has ignored an international ruling that refutes its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has vowed to “reunify” with the self-governing democracy of Taiwan , which he has never controlled. , by force if necessary.

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

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


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