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 made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now sidelined on the world stage.

Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine over the past nine months has devastated Europe and crippled the global economy, refused to attend any diplomatic meetings – and instead found himself under significant criticism as international opposition to his war appears to have intensified.

The meeting of the Group of 20 leaders (G20) in Bali earlier this week ended with the announcement that the references of nations expressed in other forums, including the UN resolution that describes “in the strongest terms” the Russian attack against Ukraine, while noting the difference. ideas.

And as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit draws to a close in Bangkok on Saturday, its 21 economic leaders 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 debate on their joint statement, cementing the meaning of the language in Bali earlier this week – and paving the way for APEC leaders to do the same. as their meeting wraps up on Saturday.

“Many members strongly condemn the war in Ukraine and emphasize that it causes great suffering to people and increases the current weakness in the world economy,” said the document, adding that there is a different “test” in the group’s situation.

Discussions between the summits, the week also showed Putin – who is believed to have launched his attack in an attempt to restore the greatness that should have been in Russia – as they became more isolated, the Russian leader hunted in Moscow and did not want to face his main allies. world meetings.

Fears of political repercussions against him if he were to leave the capital, a desire for personal security and a desire to avoid confrontation at the summit – especially as Russia faces heavy losses on the battlefield – were all factors that went into Putin’s test. , according to Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Meanwhile, he would not want to turn unnecessary attention to a few nations that have remained friendly to Russia, for example 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 person,” 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, rather than against the consequences of its attacks. Energy shortages, food security issues and rising global prices are currently weighing on economies around the world.

Indonesia, which hosted the G20, did not publicly condemn Russia for the attack, but its President Joko Widodo told world leaders on Tuesday “we must end the war.”

India, which has been a major buyer of Russian energy even as the West rejects Russian fuel in recent months, reiterated its call to “find a way back to a ceasefire” at the G20. The summit’s final announcement included the phrase, “Today must not be a war,” language echoing what Modi told Putin in September, when they met on the sidelines of a regional security summit in Uzbekistan.

It is not clear whether China, whose cooperation with Russia is strengthened by the close relationship between the leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has reached any change in the situation. Beijing has long refused to condemn the attack, or refer to it as such. Instead, it has defied Western sanctions and increased Kremlin talking points blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, although this rhetoric has appeared to have paid off somewhat in the state-controlled domestic media in recent months.

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

In side meetings with Western leaders this past week, however, Xi repeated China’s call for a negotiated end to the war, and, according to his aides, he agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine – but those words were not included in China. speech report.

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

But observers of Chinese foreign policy say its desire to maintain strong ties with Russia may not be wavering.

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

Russia’s isolation, however, appears even more so against the backdrop of Xi’s tour of Bali and Bangkok this week.

Although the Biden administration called Beijing – not Moscow – the “biggest long-term challenge” to the world order, Xi was treated as a valuable global partner by Western leaders, many of whom met with the Chinese leader in talks aimed at expansion. communication and cooperation.

In a plea for peace delivered at a meeting of business leaders taking place 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.

While referring to the US-China rivalry and confrontation in the waters of the Asian region, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is violence against international law. All countries … are stable because of international laws, “before calling on Russia to return to the “table” and “respect the international order.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with US partners in APEC after North Korea's 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 last day of the G20 summit. As a NATO member, a threat to Poland’s security could trigger a response from the rest of the bloc.

The situation worsened after an initial investigation suggested that the missile came from the Ukrainian side by accident during a missile defense system – but it highlighted the possibility of a mistake that could trigger a world war.

A day after the incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed to what he called a “broken screen.”

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

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Coming to the week of international meetings, the US and its allies were ready to produce this message to their international partners. And while strong messages have been made, gathering consensus around the idea has not been easy – and divisions remain.

The G20 declaration and the ministerial-level statement from APEC both acknowledged the differences between how members voted at the UN to support its resolution “condemning” Russia’s aggression, and said that while the majority of members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other views and different assessments.” of the condition and penalties.”

Even making such a statement with caution was a difficult process in both assemblies, according to officials. Indonesia’s Jokowi said G20 leaders were up until “midnight” discussing the Ukraine crisis.

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

The countries in the group have different forms of geo-strategic and economic relations with Russia, which affect their position. But one concern other Asian countries may have is that moves to criticize Russia are part of a push by the United States to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai Foreign Minister Kanthathi Suphamongkhon.

“Countries say we don’t want to be a victim of this game so that we can 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 of framing Russia’s sentence for “violations of international law and possible war crimes” it will affect the situation “everyone refuses here,” he said.

Russia’s rejection could send a message to China, which itself has rejected an international ruling challenging its territorial claims in the South China Sea and vowed to “reunite” with Taiwan’s ruling democracy, which has been out of control. , by force if necessary.

While this week’s efforts are likely to increase pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience with such changes: before Putin’s ouster over his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, the Group of Seven (G7) bloc was the Group of Eight — and still is. to see if international talks will have an impact.

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


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