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

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Bangkok, Thailand
CNN

The three major summits of world leaders that took place in Asia last week made one thing clear: Vladimir Putin is now marginalized from the world stage.

Putin, whose attack on Ukraine in the past nine months has devastated the European country and rocked the world economy, refused to attend any of the diplomatic meetings and instead came under significant censorship as the opposition international support for their war seemed to harden.

A meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in Bangkok closed on Saturday with a statement referencing nations’ positions expressed in other forums, including a UN resolution deploring “in the strongest terms forcefully” the Russian aggression against Ukraine, while pointing out different points of view.

It echoes verbatim a statement from the Group of 20 (G20) leaders’ summit in Bali earlier this week.

“Most 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 says, adding that there were different “assessments” of the situation within the group. .

Discussions within the summits aside, the week has also shown Putin, who is believed to have launched his invasion in a bid to restore Russia’s supposed former glory, as increasingly isolated, with the Russian leader entrenched in Moscow and not even wanting to face their counterparts in major 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 the summits, especially when Russia faces heavy losses on the battlefield, were all calculations. likely included in Putin’s assessment. , according to Alexander Gabuev, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the meantime, he may not want to focus unwanted attention on the handful of nations that have remained friendly to Russia, for example 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 against Russia, there are signs of losing patience, if not with Russia itself, than with the fallout from its aggression. Strained energy, food security issues and spiraling global inflation are now 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 energy from Russia even as the West has rejected 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 declaration includes a sentence: “Today’s era must not be one of war,” language that echoes what Modi told 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 bolstered by a close relationship between leader Xi Jinping and Putin, has reached any change in position. Beijing has long refused to condemn the invasion, or even refer to it as such. Instead, he has denounced Western sanctions and amplified Kremlin talking points blaming the US and NATO for the conflict, though this rhetoric appears to have scaled back somewhat in his state-controlled domestic media in recent months. .

However, in meetings on the sidelines with Western leaders last week, Xi reiterated China’s call for a ceasefire through dialogue and, according to readings from his interlocutors, agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, even though those comments were not included in China’s statement. account of the talks.

But China’s foreign policy watchers say its desire to maintain strong ties with Russia is likely to remain unwavering.

“While these statements are 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.”

However, the Russian isolation seems even more severe against the backdrop of Xi’s diplomatic tour in Bali and Bangkok this week.

Although US President Joe Biden’s administration named Beijing, not Moscow, as the “most serious long-term challenge” to the global order, Western leaders treated Xi as a valuable global partner, many of which met with the Chinese leader to hold talks with the aim of increasing communication and cooperation.

Xi had an exchange with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who represents the US at the APEC summit in Bangkok, at the event on Saturday. Harris said in a tweet after noting a “key message” from Biden’s own G20 meeting with Xi: the importance of maintaining open lines of communication “to responsibly manage competition between our countries.”

And in an impassioned call for peace delivered at a gathering of business leaders alongside the APEC summit 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 growing confrontation in the regional waters of Asia, Macron said: “What makes this war different is that it is an aggression against international rules. All countries… have stability due to international rules,” before calling on Russia to come back “to the table” and “respect the international order.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris meets with US allies in APEC following the North Korean ballistic missile launch on Friday.

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

The situation calmed down after the initial investigation suggested that the missile came from the Ukrainian side by accident during the missile defense, but highlighted the possibility that a miscalculation triggered a world war.

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

“While the world works to help the most vulnerable people, Russia attacks them; As leaders around the world, we reaffirm our commitment to the United Nations Charter and international norms that benefit all our peoples. President Putin continues to try to destroy those very principles,” Blinken told reporters Thursday night in Bangkok.

As the week of international meetings began, the US and its allies were ready to project that message to their international peers. And while strong messages have been delivered, it has not been easy to reach a consensus around that point of view, and differences persist.

The G20 and APEC statements acknowledge divisions between how members voted at the UN to support their resolution “deploring” Russian aggression, and say that while most members “strongly condemned” the war, “there were other points of view and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”

Even making such an expression with caveats was an arduous process at both summits, according to the officials. Indonesia’s Jokowi said the 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.

“There was a lot of pressure after the G20 reached a consensus on their communiqué,” Matt Murray, a senior US official for APEC, said in an interview with CNN after the summit closed, adding that the US. it had been constant during low-level meetings. “all year” on the need to address the war in the forum, given its impact on trade and food security.

“In each and every case where we didn’t get a consensus earlier, it was because Russia blocked the statement,” he said. Meanwhile, “middle economies” were worried about the invasion but weren’t sure it was on the agenda, according to Murray, who said the statements released this week at APEC were the result of more than 100 hours of talks, in person. and online

The nations in the groupings have various geostrategic and economic relationships with Russia, which impact their positions. But another concern some Asian nations may have is whether the moves to censor Russia are part of a US push to weaken Moscow, according to Thailand’s former foreign minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, speaking to CNN in the days leading up to the summit.

“Countries are saying we don’t want to be just a pawn in this game to weaken another power,” said Suphamongkhon, an advisory board member at the RAND Corporation Center for Asia Pacific Policy. Instead, framing Russia’s censure around its “violation of international law and war crimes that may have been committed” would affect aspects of the situation that “everyone here rejects,” he said.

Russia’s rejection of that may also send a message to China, which has scoffed at an international ruling refuting its territorial claims in the South China Sea and has vowed to “reunify” with autonomous democracy Taiwan, which has never checked. , by force if necessary.

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

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.

This story has been updated with new information.

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