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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Biden heads for G20 to seize on absence of Xi, Putin

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President Joe Biden left for the G20 summit in India on Thursday, hoping to seize on the absence of the leaders of China and Russia to shore up US influence in the divided bloc.

Biden will try to show that on big transnational issues, Washington is a better partner than Beijing or Moscow — and that the G20 remains a key forum.

But deep splits on Russia’s war in Ukraine and on how to help emerging nations tackle climate change are expected to hamper accords during the two-day meeting in New Delhi.

Biden will also travel to Vietnam on Sunday where he is expected to upgrade relations with the former foe, in a further bid to push back an increasingly assertive China.

Air Force One departed Joint Base Andrews near Washington and is due to arrive in India on Friday.

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“As the president heads to the G20, he’s committed to working with emerging market partners to deliver big things together,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a briefing ahead of the summit.

“That’s what we believe the world will see in New Delhi this weekend.”

The 80-year-old president tested negative for Covid shortly before he was due to depart, the White House said, clearing him to travel after a scare when his wife came down with a mild case on Monday.

Jill Biden also tested negative on Thursday.

China’s Xi Jinping will miss the G20 meeting at a time of heightened trade and geopolitical tensions with the United States and India, with which it shares a long and disputed border.

 

– ‘Spoiler’ –

 

Biden said last week he was “disappointed” Xi would skip the G20, but the Chinese leader’s no-show gives the US president a golden opportunity to push Washington’s influence over its rival.

White House officials said Biden would in particular stress a plan to increase World Bank and International Monetary Fund lending power for emerging nations by some $200 billion as a better alternative to Beijing’s “coercive” Belt and Road Initiative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is meanwhile not even planning to make a video address at the G20, the Kremlin said Thursday, amid fraught relations between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

But the absence of Xi and Putin underscores the divisions in the G20 and could hamper Biden’s bid to keep the bloc as the leading forum of global economic cooperation.

The White House’s Sullivan said the United States wants to show the G20 can deliver at a time when the BRICS club of emerging economies — which includes India but has been championed largely by China and Russia — is expanding.

Biden will be also cheerleading India and its leader Narendra Modi as a counterweight to China, even if their goals are sometimes at odds, particularly on Ukraine.

Sullivan said on Tuesday that China could opt to “play the role of spoiler” but that Modi and other leaders would “encourage them to come in a constructive way.”

Biden goes straight from the G20 to Hanoi where he will meet ruling Vietnamese Communist party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.

The pair are expected to sign a major upgrade in ties between the two countries, who have overcome the painful legacy of the Vietnam War to grow close.

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