Washington (AFP) – President Joe Biden aims to assert America’s global leadership during his upcoming trip to Southeast Asia, which will continue to rule his presidency after Tuesday’s election.
The foreign policy challenges that helped define Biden’s first two years in office — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the growing influence of China — will be fully demonstrated at two summits in the region. Biden is preparing for a possible one-on-one meeting with the newly empowered Xi Jinping, who last month won a third designated term as leader of the Chinese Community Party.
Biden will also face global economic challenges at the G-20 summit, an annual gathering of the leaders of the world’s largest economies. It will also try to reassure the roughly ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the United States is investing in the region at a time when China is increasing its influence.
The ASEAN Summit will be held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Bali, Indonesia, is the site of the G20 summit.
Before that, Biden will stop in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the United Nations climate conference, known as COP27. Unlike last year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the president will arrive at this year’s meeting able to point out important achievements at home, with the August signing of legislation that will provide the largest investment in US history to fight climate change.
A look at the main themes that will dominate Biden’s seven-day trip. First stop in Egypt on Friday.
Keep pressure on Russia
More than eight months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden faces new challenges in his efforts to isolate Moscow. Rising energy and food prices, and worries in Europe about supplies of those vital commodities as winter approaches, are testing global resolve to shore up Ukraine’s defense and punish Russian aggression.
At the G-20 summit, Biden will have his first chance to meet two new partners important to this effort: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Sunak, who took office last month after a disastrous short stint for Liz Truss, has promised to continue his predecessors’ unwavering support for Ukraine. He and Biden will plan to strategize new ways to bolster Ukraine’s long-term defenses.
Meloni has pledged to continue providing arms and aid to Ukraine, but questions remain about her far-right coalition’s commitment to standing up to Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not announced whether he intends to participate in the summit. Biden said he had no plans to meet with Putin, but left the door open for a conversation if Putin wanted to discuss a deal to release Americans imprisoned in Russia.
Biden administration officials have been coordinating with their global counterparts to isolate Putin if he decides to participate either in person or virtually. They discussed boycotts or other manifestations of condemnation.
Navigating the otters
Biden spoke of a global struggle between authoritarian regimes and democracies. But he is increasingly forced to rely on less democratic leaders to advance American interests, from Egyptian Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is hosting the climate conference, to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has resisted US pleas to limit purchases of Russian oil. .
Biden used his remarks at the United Nations in September to underscore that the United States is ready to work with all nations — regardless of their systems of government — to bring about change.
“The Charter of the United Nations has not only been signed by the world’s democracies, but has been negotiated among the citizens of dozens of countries with vastly different histories and ideologies, united in their commitment to work for peace,” Biden said at the time.
The administration says Biden has no plans to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, after OPEC + embarrassed Biden by cutting production months after his July meeting with the crown prince. Biden criticized the move, describing it as an indication that Saudi Arabia is siding with Russia.
On Tuesday, US voters will rule on Biden’s rule and two years of Democratic control of Washington. It is not clear how quickly control of the House and Senate will be known after Election Day. The White House has persistently sought to frame the midterm elections as a choice between the feuding visions of the nation, rather than a referendum on Biden’s tenure in office.
Democrats are especially preparing to lose control of the House of Representatives, at least. A plethora of Senate races that could overturn power in the 50-50 room is considered negligence. Depending on the results, Biden could embark on his politically significantly weakened foreign journey.
The most severe impact abroad of Tuesday’s results in the United States may be the future of aid to Ukraine. Although aid support was broadly bipartisan, conservatives increasingly expressed skepticism about the wisdom of continued support, as did California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader who is poised to become House Speaker if Republicans win that room.
However, some observers believe that the midterm outcome, regardless of the verdict, will not have a significant impact on Biden’s maneuvers abroad.
“These issues tend to transcend politics,” said Ash Gein of the Atlantic Council, referring to Congressional support for Ukraine and the strengthening of U.S. competition with China. “Biden’s discussions with leaders on these issues will not be significantly affected by the outcome of the election.”
A meeting with xi?
US and Chinese officials are working to prepare logistical arrangements for such a meeting between the two leaders, which would be the first of its kind in person during Biden’s presidency. It may come at a time when Biden may have been politically punished by American voters while Xi consolidated his power during the Communist Party convention that concluded last month.
If a meeting takes place, there will be no shortage of topics Biden should raise with China, which the US government now says is its strongest military and economic rival.
Tensions have risen between the two countries over Taiwan, particularly after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s August visit to the self-ruled island and Biden’s repeated statements that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if China attacked it — comments that his aides have repeatedly retracted.
The issue of trade sanctions on Chinese goods under Trump is also still up for debate. Biden is also likely to raise the issue of human rights abuses, particularly against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region. China has also refrained from publicly blaming Russia for Ukraine, though Putin said Xi privately conveyed “concerns and questions” about the invasion when the two met in Uzbekistan in September.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, stressed Friday that the US government has never asked other countries to make an effective choice between them and China, acknowledging that each country can build relationships based on its own interests.
But “it won’t change the fact that we still want to make sure that we are in the best position to compete strategically with China and take on the very physical and tangible threats and challenges that China presents – particularly in the ‘Indo-Pacific’,” Kirby added.
Maintaining the momentum on climate change
At the climate conference, Biden will highlight one of his major domestic successes – the Democrats’ Comprehensive Health Care Act and Climate Change known as the Inflation Cuts Act.
The United States’ commitment of about $375 billion over a decade to combat climate change gives Biden more leverage to pressure other nations to fulfill their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shift the global economy toward cleaner energy sources.
Biden will be in a very different position than last year’s meeting, which occurred during a particularly unhappy period in the winding path of passing the bill.
That summit resulted in additional global commitments to meet the temperature targets agreed in the Paris climate agreement, which Biden rejoined after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal. But even with the new US law, America and the world have a long way to go to meet the emissions targets scientists hope to contain global warming. And the political will to invest more – as the global economy faces new headwinds – is shrinking.
“There is a real gap in public policy reality versus ambition sealed in Glasgow,” said Joseph Magcot, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Energy Security and Climate Change Program.
The global desire to move away from fossil fuels faded due to the turmoil in global energy markets following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Biden is pressing oil and gas producers to increase production to meet demand and lower prices that funded the Kremlin’s war effort.
The prospects for a major breakthrough appear even more slim, with major emitting countries such as China and India sending less significant delegations. Biden administration officials tried to lower expectations about the outcome at the meeting and instead described it as a return to US leadership on the issue.
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