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Asia’s week of summits put Russia under the spotlight, but US-China relations stole the show

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While in Cambodia, Lavrov also met the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – all countries which have not imposed sanctions on Russia. Another highlight in Cambodia was the symbolic act of Ukraine signing a peace accord with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; this has no practical implications, but signifies the bloc’s growing role as an active player in geopolitics.

Unlike the East Asia Summit, both the Group of 20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings concluded with joint statements deploring Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As Indonesian President Joko Widodo explained, the negotiation for the G20 leaders’ declaration was “very tough” and kept the leaders up until midnight.

‘In strongest terms’: world leaders at G20 condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine

01:48

‘In strongest terms’: world leaders at G20 condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Although the final text mentions the UN General Assembly resolution that “deplores … aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”, a full Russian translation of the document was published on the Russian president’s website and the declaration was well received by Russian officials, possibly because it includes a mention of “other views and different assessments” of the situation.

Moreover, China has a different understanding of the causes of today’s economic challenges from most G20 and Apec members, who have blamed the Russia-Ukraine conflict for worsening inflation, supply chain disruption and energy and food insecurity.

Taking a stance closer to Lavrov’s, Xi blamed the world’s food and energy on politicisation in his remarks at the G20 summit. At the Apec, Xi continued with veiled criticism of the US, when he warned against “bloc confrontation” and “big power contest”.

Earlier in the month, a strongly worded video address by European Council president Charles Michel urging China to stop “Russia’s brutal war” was pulled from the opening ceremony of a Shanghai trade expo.

India has also remained deaf to the calls of its Western allies to turn away from Russia, with the Indian foreign minister hailing New Delhi’s “strong and steady” relationship with Moscow.

While Russia was in the spotlight during the recent week of diplomacy in Asia, it was the US and China that dominated the gatherings.

In a meeting with Xi, US President Joe Biden raised all the thorny issues: Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, human rights, and China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan”. Xi, on the other hand, spoke about properly handling the bilateral relationship and raised hopes for better China-US ties.

Beijing seemed unwilling to use sharp language, not only with Washington but also with others. In an exchange with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau over the leaking of details of their previous meeting, Xi cautiously said such behaviour was “not appropriate”.

Similarly, at his first meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, President Xi pledged to strengthen mutual trust and coordination on international affairs. This is despite the fact that Japan has been tilting closer to Nato: it participated in a summit of the transatlantic security alliance for the first time in June, and this month, it announced it would join a Nato cybersecurity platform.

Japan’s foreign minister to visit China after leaders Fumio Kishida and Xi Jinping meet at Apec

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Japan’s foreign minister to visit China after leaders Fumio Kishida and Xi Jinping meet at Apec

Milder rhetoric from Beijing seems to be intentional as China seeks to improve ties with its neighbours and ease suspicion of its ambition, so as to create better trade and investment conditions amid a slowing economy, global financial shocks and intensifying economic competition with the US.

Asean has once again proved to be a hotspot and key diplomatic battleground for the global powers. In a bid to counter Washington’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, Beijing intends to upgrade its free trade zone with Asean.

For much of the time at the summits, Xi was all business, as he promoted China’s economic role in the region, as well as his country’s commitment to a rules-based multilateral trading system. Clearly, Beijing wants to prevent Washington from sowing further confusion about China’s supply chains and trade leadership with its talk of “friend-shoring”.

Equally, Xi understands that the geopolitical storm is catching the wind and growing stronger. As the example of the sanctions against Russia shows, economic rationality – or an understanding of the sanctions’ impact on national economies and the world economy – does not always prevail over the urge to escalate. This may be why Xi has instructed the military to enhance training and prepare for war. That seems to be a sign of our times.

Danil Bochkov is an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council

The news is published by EMEA Tribune & SCMP210520-twitter-verified-cs-70cdee.jpg (1500×750)

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