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 attack on Ukraine has devastated the European country and disrupted the global economy over the past nine months, declined to attend any of the diplomatic meetings – and instead faced considerable criticism as international opposition turned against his war seemed to harden.

A meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Bangkok ended on Saturday with a statement that echoed the nations’ positions expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution calling for the Russian Aggression against Ukraine “strongly” deplores dissenting views.

It echoes verbatim a statement made 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 immense human suffering and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities in the global economy,” the document said, adding that there were different “assessments” of the situation within the group give.

Aside from the discussions at the summits, the week has also revealed that Putin – who is believed to have launched his invasion to restore Russia’s supposed former glory – is increasingly isolated with the Russian leader cowering in Moscow and not even ready is to face his peers at global meetings.

Fear of possible political maneuvering against him should he leave the capital, obsession with personal security, and desire to avoid scenes of confrontation at the summits – especially in the face of heavy Russian casualties on the battlefield – were all likely considerations that went into Putin’s assessment , said Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the meantime, he might not wish to draw unwanted attention to the 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,” Gabuev said.

But even among countries that have not taken a hard line toward Russia, there are signs of lost patience, if not with Russia itself, then with the aftermath of its aggression. Tightened energy supplies, food security issues and rising global inflation are now putting pressure on economies around the world.

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

India, which has been a major buyer of Russian energy even though the West has shunned Russian fuel in recent months, also reiterated its call at the G20 to “find a way to get back on the ceasefire path.” The summit’s final declaration includes a phrase that says “Today’s era must not be a war” – language that echoes what Modi said to Putin in September when they met on the sidelines of the summit in Uzbekistan.

It is less clear whether China, whose strategic partnership with Russia is strengthened by a close relationship between President Xi Jinping and Putin, has changed its stance. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion or even call it such. Instead, it has denounced Western sanctions and intensified discussions in the Kremlin blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, although this rhetoric has seemed to be tapered somewhat in the state-controlled domestic media in recent months.

However, 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 those remarks are not included in China’s résumé of the talks .

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

However, Chinese foreign policy observers say China’s desire to maintain close ties with Russia is likely to remain unshaken.

“Although these remarks are an indirect criticism of Vladimir Putin, I don’t think they are aimed at distancing 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 her.”

But Russia’s isolation seems even more stark against the backdrop of Xi’s diplomatic trips to Bali and Bangkok this week.

Although the Biden administration has called Beijing — not Moscow — the “most serious long-term challenge” to world 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 boosting it communication and collaboration.

At Saturday’s event, Xi had exchanges with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is representing the US at the APEC summit in Bangkok. Harris said in a tweet afterwards that she noted a “key message” from Biden’s G20 meeting with Xi — the importance of maintaining open lines of communication “to responsibly manage competition between our countries.”

In an impassioned call for peace delivered Friday before a gathering of business leaders alongside the APEC summit, French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to make a distinction between Russia’s actions and tensions with China.

Referring to US-China competition and increasing 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 urging Russia to “return to the table” and “respect the international order.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with US allies at APEC Friday after North Korea launched ballistic missiles.

The urgency of that feeling was heightened after a Russian-made missile landed in Poland during the G20 summit on Tuesday, killing two people. As a NATO member, a threat to Polish security could trigger a bloc-wide response.

The situation eased after initial investigations suggested the missile accidentally came from the Ukrainian side during missile defenses – but the possibility of a miscalculation that could trigger a world war was highlighted.

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

“What we are seeing is a very revealing split screen: as the world works to help those most at risk, Russia is targeting them; as leaders around the world reaffirmed our commitment to the UN Charter and international rules that benefit all of our employees. President Putin keeps trying to destroy the same principles,” Blinken told reporters in Bangkok on Thursday night.

As the week of international meetings began, the US and its allies stood ready to take this message to their international counterparts. And while strong messages have been put out, reaching consensus on this view has not been easy – and differences remain.

The G20 and APEC statements both acknowledge disagreements over how members at the UN voted to support their resolution “regretting” Russian aggression, saying that while most members support the war “strongly convicted”, “there were different views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.

Even making such a pronouncement with reservations was an arduous process, according to officials at both summits. Indonesia’s Jokowi said G20 leaders were up until “midnight” to discuss the Ukraine paragraph.

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

The nations in the groupings have different geostrategic and economic ties with Russia that influence their stance. But another concern some Asian nations may have is whether moves to censor Russia are part of an American push to weaken Moscow, according to former Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon.

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

Russia’s refusal in that direction could also send a message to China, which itself has flouted an international ruling refuting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has vowed to “get back at it” with Taiwan’s self-governing democracy, which it never controls unite”. , if necessary by force.

While efforts this week may have increased pressure on Putin, the Russian leader has experience of such dynamics: prior to Putin’s ouster over his 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, the Group of Seven (G7) bloc was the Group of Eight – and it remains to be seen whether the international statements will have any effect.

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

This story has been updated with new information.

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