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Biden faces balancing act at G20 in warding off China

The absence of the leaders of China and Russia at the G20 summit in India will allow President Biden to take center stage, rallying allies to push back against the goals of Beijing and Moscow in the global arena. 

While some experts say the strength of the G20 as a global economic alliance has diminished, it could provide Biden an opportunity to begin reeling in countries where China has had an outsized influence.

But Biden will also have to balance the diversity of interests from G20 members, with those in Latin America, Africa and Asia holding back from joining the U.S. and other Western partners in the hard policy lines they have drawn on Russia and China. 

“Many of them do not want to be forced into the middle of a U.S.-China fight,” said Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese Business and Economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“They want these two large powers to find a way to peacefully coexist. To the extent to which the Biden administration can frame the broader issues about addressing collective problems that everyone faces … I think that will be a potentially effective way to differentiate the U.S.’s effort to lean forward and China’s modest retreat inward that is occurring at the same time.”

Another major agenda item for Biden is a push to reshape the World Bank, which is an effort meant to counter China by providing an alternative means of financing separate from Beijing for development projects.

Ralph Winnie, vice president of the Global Development & China Program with the Eurasia Center, said Biden may have an opportunity to galvanize member countries without explicitly selling the reforms as being anti-China. 

“I think it’s important to create choices and opportunities for all people and have a banking structure that is going to be very effective in creating jobs and economic opportunities,” he said. “That’s what people have to believe in and what they have to see. It’s not simply just having a system to counter the Chinese.” 

Instead of attending, Xi is opting to send the country’s premier, Li Qiang, to India on his behalf. The Chinese, whose economy is facing increasing setbacks, did not give details into why Xi has decided not to join but called the G20 an important forum for international economic cooperation.

While Biden is set to avoid major confrontations with America’s two biggest foes – Xi, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin – their nonattendance will likely weaken the impact of the meeting where the world’s biggest economies seek to deliver consensus on some of the most challenging global issues.

“I think the utility of the G20 as a kind of the premier, global grouping to resolve global economic issues is frankly just diminishing,” said Sadanand Dhume, senior fellow with the American Enterprise Institute.

“The G20 more broadly is just becoming less important and less useful, precisely because geopolitics has come to the fore since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

And another growing global group is lurking – Chinese and Russian leaders are coming off a separate meeting with the BRICS alliance, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa who are trying to position themselves as an alternative to the Group of nations formats.

But at the G20, Biden holds a distinct advantage as the West’s most powerful and effective leader with deeper ties with partners and allies and a stronger U.S. economy than a year ago and especially on matters involving Ukraine.

“[The Biden administration] had success on the multilateral level in Europe and in Asia, pushing back on Russia in Ukraine, on a variety of different issues that I think have had an impact on significant progress on the relationship with India,” Kennedy said.

“I wouldn’t say that they are going to dominate the G20 but they can provide significant leadership in a way that reflects a significant turning point in the geostrategic competition with China.”

It’s unclear how much Biden and U.S. allies will focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine but also complicating matters is the site of the meeting in India, which is a long-time purchaser of Russian military equipment and has increased its imports of Russian oil by 11 times following an international price cap meant to punish Moscow. 

Ukrainian NGO’s signed an open letter opposing Russian representation at the summit, in general, and criticized the sale of Russian fossil fuels on the global market as funding Putin’s war and hindering the fight against climate change.

The groups called out China, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and South Africa – but notably left out India – as specific offenders and even took shots at Kyiv’s supporters like South Korea, Australia and the European Union as holding back from cutting off energy dependency on Moscow completely. 

Biden’s leadership at the G20 will also be a focus as the president has tried to display himself as the leader of western allies throughout the war in Ukraine. Ahead of the summit, Biden’s reelection campaign dropped an ad highlighting his visit to Kyiv from February to show off his role on the world stage.

Former President Trump, who is the frontrunner in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, demanded attention at the G20 during his presidency, but his America First agenda prevented allies from mobilizing significant support for the goals he would push at these summits.

Kennedy argued that this G20 could be a book end to the Trump years now that nearly three years into Biden’s presidency, the U.S. economy is improving beyond other economies coming out of the pandemic.

“This potentially is a book end to that period, where the Biden administration can assert significant leadership, mobilizing major countries around the world to address security issues, economic issues of common concern,” he said. 

Sarakshi Rai contributed to this report.

Source: The Hill

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