President Joe Biden aims to seize on the absence of two key adversaries at this week’s Group of 20 leaders meeting in New Delhi to make fresh inroads with countries that China and Russia have previously courted.
(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden aims to seize on the absence of two key adversaries at this week’s Group of 20 leaders meeting in New Delhi to make fresh inroads with countries that China and Russia have previously courted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping both opted to skip this year’s gathering, giving Biden an opening to re-establish the US as the polestar of the international system. He’ll take the US case to nations such as Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia — not to mention the host, India — that are eager for closer ties with China and have declined to take sides after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Central to that effort is a push to boost the funding and scope of the World Bank and other development banks, in a bid to deepen ties with the world’s emerging economies and offer an alternative to China’s state-backed lending. The US also plans to push for debt relief for poor countries and announce funding for new infrastructure projects. Biden will then visit Vietnam to announce commercial deals deepening ties with the country’s emerging technology sector.
The White House sees this funding as crucial on multiple fronts: as a form of soft-power diplomacy, to make sure projects maintain high labor standards and consider the climate, and as a counterweight to Chinese and Russian efforts to build influence in countries that will only grow in strategic and economic importance.
“If you look at the US economy and you look at China’s economy, if you look at the US’s alliances and the strength that we have built up in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, we feel very good about the strategic position of the United States, in terms of the unfolding competition,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.
Biden’s ability to make that pitch will depend, of course, on his own ability to attend. First lady Jill Biden tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, and if the infection spreads to the president he will scrap his planned travel. On Wednesday, he said that he was tested and “clear across the board.”
Biden’s effort also hinges on whether other participating powers see the G-20 as a still-relevant gathering to steer the global economy. Tensions over the war in Ukraine are only the latest wedge in the diverse and often chaotic multilateral coalition, while China and Russia have sought other forums to exert their influence.
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Putin is set to meet North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un in Russia’s Far East, in what could further undermine international efforts to isolate Pyongyang. Leaders will likely struggle until the last minute to find compromise on language describing Russia’s war in Ukraine — risking the first time that the group doesn’t put out a joint communique since its 1999 founding.
China, meanwhile, has seen its influence on energy markets grow after inviting three of the world’s biggest oil and gas powers – Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the UAE – into the BRICS forum, giving Beijing an important alternative to the G-20.
Wendy Cutler, vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said the composition of this year’s summit in New Delhi makes it even harder to prove its relevance.
“The absence of Xi Jinping at this year’s G-20 meeting underscores how this grouping, once the shiny dime among its competitors, now is struggling to produce meaningful outcomes in the midst of geopolitical tensions,” she said.
Xi also faces growing challenges at home, where his Communist Party is battling a struggling economy and rising youth unemployment. Biden last month called China a “ticking time bomb,” citing its economic woes.
But Biden is hoping that the relative stability of the US economy will bolster his pitch for American leadership – and soften skepticism that a Republican Congress or a return of former President Donald Trump could undermine any promises made by American officials. Sullivan said Tuesday that the absence of other leaders wasn’t changing the sales pitch from the administration.
Biden’s reelection campaign Thursday unveiled a new ad highlighting his foreign policy, centered on his unannounced trip to Ukraine in February. The ad, which will run in battleground states, shows footage of Biden meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv as air raid sirens blared. Biden’s dramatic visit to show support for the country followed months of planning and secrecy to take the US president to a war zone and home safely.
Biden’s support for Ukraine has become a flash point in the Republican presidential primary race, with the field divided between hawkish candidates and those seeking a less interventionist approach. Candidates including former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley have urged continued support for Kyiv, while others such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have said Europe must “pull their weight.” Trump has expressed admiration for Putin and said he would quickly secure a deal to end the war if reelected.
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The forum also allows Biden a chance to mend relationships with critical partners. Aides acknowledge he’s likely to interact with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even if they don’t hold a formal meeting.
That conversation on the sidelines could prove crucial for Biden, who is eager to see an increase in oil production – and a corresponding expected drop in gasoline prices – ahead of next year’s presidential election. The White House has also sought to help broker a potential normalization of diplomatic relations between the Saudis and Israelis.
For Biden, the most important outcome may be strengthening his hand before November, when Xi may travel to San Francisco where the US is hosting the annual APEC summit. A parade of US officials have visited Beijing in recent months – prompting positive signals from officials there and speculation that a meeting between the two leaders is in the works.
“Obviously there has been a temporary easing of tensions between China and the US,” said Wang Yiwei, a former Chinese diplomat and director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs. Even so, “it would be difficult for the Chinese elites to restore trust in the US again,” he said.
–With assistance from Jing Li.
(Updates with details on Biden campaign ad, Ukraine debate in paragraphs 14-15)
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