APEC 2022: Xi Jinping takes center stage at Thailand summit with Biden and Putin absent

Bangkok, Thailand

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Bangkok on Thursday for the latest of three consecutive international summits held over the past week in Asia – this time for a meeting without the leaders of the United States and Russia.

That leaves Xi poised to enter the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ meeting in the Thai capital without having to face US President Joe Biden in an economic summit focused on a region at the heart of the US-China competition.

And the expected absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bangkok, as in Bali for the G-20 summit earlier this week, will also leave Xi unencumbered with meeting the counterpart he describes as a bosom friend, who became a pariah in the West after his invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, Xi will be a key figure among the roster of participants from a region where Washington and Beijing have long competed for influence, leaving him in a good position to advance China’s economic vision as leaders gather to discuss issues including inflation, climate change and rising food prices. Prices and energy insecurity, based on discussions at two separate conferences in Phnom Penh and Bali in recent days.

Xi laid out that vision in a written statement released Thursday night at a conference of business leaders who gathered alongside the APEC summit, in which he denounced “Cold War mentality, hegemony, unilateralism and protectionism” — echoing Beijing’s typical criticism of the United States, without mentioning it by name.

“The Asia-Pacific region is not anyone’s backyard and should not become a region of great power competition. The people or our time will never allow any attempt to launch a new cold war!” Xi said in the statement.

“Any attempt to disrupt or even dismantle industrial supply chains… will only bring economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region to a standstill,” he said, in a thinly veiled reference to economic decoupling.

Xi entered the APEC Leaders’ Summit, which officially begins on Friday, having already cut his diplomatic stride at the G-20 meeting in Bali earlier this week — where his aim was to portray China as an integral part of the world stage alongside Western powers after Absence. from the world stage.

The G-20 marked Xi’s first major international summit since he broke with norms to demand a third term at the helm of the Chinese Communist Party last month, and the first time several G7 leaders met face-to-face since the start of the pandemic. .

This meeting saw Xi holding seemingly constructive conversations and smiling broadly in photos with leaders who have recently raised concerns about China as a global threat. He was also caught on video berating Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a smile.

While tensions with the West remain acute, diplomacy has laid Xi on a solid foundation going into this upcoming summit, where the Chinese leader is expected to address business leaders and continue his series of bilateral talks, including with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Xi’s communication has been successful so far. The world has accepted his third term by default, and he is able to demonstrate his ability to lead both domestic and foreign audiences,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank.

For your father, China would have been the center of attention with or without Biden and Putin. But without them, Shi wouldn’t have a peer in the room…his show would be.

“The subtext is also important in that it shows how the United States and Russia are not as engaged as China.”

But the United States has other ideas. While Biden returned to the United States on Wednesday for his granddaughter’s wedding, Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the APEC Forum before traveling to the Philippines.

A senior White House official told reporters that Harris will address a meeting of business leaders on the sidelines of the summit and express “there is no better partner” than the United States in the region.

The United States escalated its economic competition with China last month by launching unprecedented measures from Washington to curb the sale of chips and advanced chip manufacturing equipment to China — a move that is likely to have spillover effects on the economies of members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization.

Earlier this year, Washington launched its Indo-Pacific economic framework — the economic linchpin of Biden’s plan to engage with the region as it competes with China — which includes a number of member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization, but not China or Russia. The United States will host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum next year.

How APEC leaders choose to handle Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is also at stake.

At the G20, in the presence of Biden and the wealthy G7 leaders, the summit concluded with a joint declaration strongly condemning the war in Ukraine. As in the G20, Russia will be represented by a lower-level official, with First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov speaking on behalf of Moscow in Bangkok, according to Russian state media.

While the economic repercussions of the war in Ukraine will be high on the agenda, how or whether the participating leaders choose to implicate Russia over these implications could influence any agreements made from the summit.

And while Xi may project power on the guest list, China’s economic woes in recent months have loomed over the region and are likely to be another area of ​​concern. Late last month, the International Monetary Fund listed China’s “uncharacteristically sharp” economic slowdown as a major headwind facing the Asia-Pacific region, lowering its growth forecast by about a percentage point.

In his written statement to business leaders on Thursday — a day before Harris is scheduled to deliver a speech at the same conference — Xi called for “opening up” the regional economy and accelerating scientific and technological progress there.

“I hope all of you, as business leaders, will actively participate in China’s economic cooperation, reform, opening up and modernization endeavors,” he said.

But observers will also be looking to the Chinese leader to make clear on Beijing’s economic agenda, particularly since its borders – and supply chains – remain badly affected by ongoing Covid-19 controls, despite the easing of the policy last month. a The sweeping regulatory crackdown on the tech industry last year also caused concern.

“This is a big question mark in the minds of many of us,” former Thai foreign minister Kantathi Supamongkun told CNN, referring to how long China will maintain its COVID-19 policy and tight border controls, which have affected Thailand’s vital tourism industry. .

“It is important that the (APEC) participants talk to the Chinese president about this,” he said.

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