Instead of the absent leaders of China, Russia, Japan, and Mexico, lower-level ministers, some lesser-known among some of the most recognizable leaders in the world, were sent to replace them.
Nevertheless, the decision to cancel one of the world’s most important diplomatic events only fuels the feeling that Xi and Putin have become less concerned about global cooperation as their countries internationally condemn cyber attacks, military aggression and human rights violations. For leaders who have consolidated power strongly, it was unlikely that their subordinates at the summits would be empowered to make important decisions along with heads of state.
The absence of Xi and Putin helps and hinders Bidna
White House officials insist that the absence of Putin and Xi at the conference this weekend is not really a lost opportunity. Instead, they believe the gap has allowed the United States and European leaders to set the agenda and stimulate discussion on topics that are important to them, such as climate and the fight against the global pandemic.
“I think this shows to some extent their own priorities,” said Ambassador Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, on Xi and Putin’s decision to only virtually participate in the G20 this weekend.
“It’s just an opportunity if you translate it into reality,” Haass added. “For example, can you encourage Europeans to pursue a serious policy towards China, trade and investment, or threaten them with sanctions if they use force against Taiwan? Will Europeans reduce their dependence on Russian energy? So we can talk in general terms about opportunities , but I think there are real questions about what we can translate into politics and reality. “
Neither Putin nor Xi are diplomatic loners; both speak regularly with foreign counterparts, including a phone call between Biden and Xi last month and a closely watched summit with Putin and Biden in Switzerland in June.
Both were signatories to Iran’s nuclear deal, which Biden wants to renew, and both participated in climate summits convened by the White House this year. Russia and China have also taken the lead in communicating with the Taliban following their takeover of Afghanistan following the US withdrawal.
However, their actions are often selective and have not prevented them from turning their countries towards international order.
In the week before the G20, Russian warships made a fake landing in Crimea, a territory in Ukraine annexed by Moscow in 2014, and it was revealed that Russian hackers behind the successful violation of US federal agencies in 2020 were in the last months of trying to infiltrate the US. and European government networks.
China, meanwhile, has increased military overflights into Taiwanese airspace. The status of the island nation and its relationship to the US – an increasingly difficult topic for Beijing rulers – are now among the thorny points of disagreement in increasingly tense US-China relations.
Even without Xi at the summit, China has proven to be a permanent topic of conversation.
“This was a central topic of conversation, not as a kind of bloc formation or a new Cold War-style collaboration, but as a solution to a very complex challenge in a clear and very coordinated way,” the senior administration official said. .
Side discussions disappear
In video remarks aired on the G20 on Saturday, both Xi and Putin expressed concern about global vaccination efforts, and each complained that international bodies did not recognize their countries’ shots. They expected to attend additional sessions later at the summit, but because they will not attend in person, they will not have the opportunity to address their concerns with fellow leaders.
Often, the most substantive debates at international summits take place on the sidelines of formal plenary sessions, which are carefully planned and rarely generate unexpected news.
At the beginning of his presidency, after aides organized virtual “visits” by world leaders to mimic a White House invitation, Biden complained that the meetings seemed uneven and lacked face-to-face warmth.
“There is no substitute, as those of you who have covered me for some time, for face-to-face dialogue between leaders. None,” Biden said in June after a personal summit with Putin in Geneva.
Earlier this summer, the White House considered the G20 this weekend as a potential venue for Biden’s first personal meeting with Xi since he became president, a key opportunity to check as tensions between Washington and Beijing escalate. In meetings and phone calls, U.S. officials assessed the Chinese interest in organizing such a meeting.
Eventually, however, it became clear that such a meeting would not be likely. The White House said a date has not yet been set for a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi, although this is expected to happen before the end of the year.
“They will be able to sit as close face to face as technology will allow them to see each other and spend a lot of time reviewing the entire agenda,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said before Biden left for Europe.
China remains at the forefront and at the center
In an interview with CNN this week, the Taiwanese president acknowledged for the first time the presence of U.S. troops on the island for training purposes, a major development that was not well received in Beijing. When he traveled to Rome to represent Xi at the G20, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the U.S. and its partners not to interfere in Taiwan affairs.
In their talks on Friday, Biden and Macron spent most of their time behind the scenes discussing China, a senior administration official said, calling it a “three-dimensional debate.”
“No matter how we come together to contain China or not, how we, as allies, start a new Cold War, but: how do we deal with the issues that China’s rise raises for democracies, allies, into a market economy?” said the official, describing the talks between the two presidents. “And how should we do this in a way that protects the interests of our country and our values, while not seeking confrontation or conflict?”
Asked last week if it was a mistake for Xi not to attend this year’s G20, Sullivan replied that he would not describe the Chinese president’s decision. However, he acknowledged that meetings between leaders are such a substitute.
“In a period of intense competition between the United States and China,” Sullivan said, “intensive diplomacy, leadership-level diplomacy, is key to effectively managing this relationship.”