President Joe Biden arrives in Washington on Wednesday evening after a whirlwind series of summits on two different continents – his biggest opportunity yet to play the role of chief diplomat among other world leaders in a world emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The trip – spanning Egypt, Cambodia and Indonesia for summits focused on climate, Southeast Asia and the global economy – came at a delicate time, challenging the president to balance his attention to both the ongoing domestic political battles and the international issues before him.
Biden, for example, would be thousands of miles from Washington as votes continued to be tallied in midterm races across the country. He would be in Indonesia as his 2020 competitor and predecessor, former President Donald Trump, announced his third run for president in Florida. And through it all, Biden would try to thread the needle of diplomacy with allies and adversaries who may be unsure if his brand of foreign policy will stick for the long haul.
But flying out of Asia on Wednesday, the president left having been able to celebrate a few political victories abroad, ironing out some of the most difficult dynamics he had faced with key leaders without promising any deliverables and testing the mettle of his alliances in case of emergency. called on them to come together and come up with a plan.
Here are the takeaways from Biden’s trip:
Biden held three-hour talks on the sidelines of the G20 in Bali on Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first in-person meeting since Biden took office. The meeting was an opportunity to ease long-standing tensions. Although the two leaders left without resolving the litany of issues that helped drive US-China relations to their lowest point in decades, they pledged to restore coordination.
Relations deteriorated rapidly amid economic disputes and an increasingly militarized standoff over Taiwan. The tensions have led to a decline in cooperation in areas where the two countries once shared common interests, such as tackling climate change and reining in North Korea’s nuclear program.
Coming out of the talks afterwards, Biden told reporters that he and Xi were “open and candid” about their disagreements. Crucially, Biden questioned an imminent invasion of self-governing Taiwan and seemed hopeful that his message about avoiding all-out conflict would be received.
“I’m not saying it’s kumbaya,” Biden said at a press conference, “but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about because one of you raised a legitimate question, a new cold war.”
“He was clear, and I was clear, that we will defend American interests and values, promote universal human rights and uphold the international order and work closely with our allies and partners,” he said. continued Biden. “We will compete vigorously but I am not looking for conflict.”
The White House said in a statement after the meeting that Biden raised concerns about human rights and China’s provocations around Taiwan. But they found at least one area of apparent agreement – that nuclear weapons cannot be used in Ukraine, where that nation is trying to fight off a Russian invasion.
In a sign that the pair arrived at the meeting hoping to improve the soured relationship, Biden announced that his Secretary of State Antony Blinken would visit China and said officials from each country would start working together on the problems. Formal talks on climate cooperation between the United States and China are expected to resume as well as part of a broader package of agreements between Biden and Xi, two U.S. officials told CNN.
China had previously halted the talks – seen by the Biden administration as a key area where the two nations must work together – in retaliation for a visit to Taiwan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. US and Chinese climate change envoys are talking, but the Biden administration will see what China is willing to do to make real progress, one of the US officials said.
The White House had been prepared for domestic politics to weigh on the trip given Trump’s expected announcement and the delay in midterm election results. The question, it seems, also hovered in the minds of the leaders Biden met throughout the trip.
Biden raised the political headwinds working in his favor headlined Monday’s press conference, after the Democrats were predicted to win their majority in the US Senate.
“The American people have proven once again that democracy is what we are. There was a strong rejection of Holocaust deniers at all levels from those seeking to lead our states and those seeking to sit in Congress, as well as those seeking to oversee elections,” Biden said.
Speaking about his time in Asia and his meeting with world leaders, Biden said the election sent “a very strong message to the world that the United States is ready to play” and “fully committed to the world.” .
Throughout his meetings in Asia, Biden was approached by other leaders congratulating the midterm results, a signal that America’s political contests were being closely watched by leaders on the other side of the world. It was a phenomenon that surprised some of his aides, especially the specificity with which many leaders looked.
White House officials were also anticipating a split-screen moment this week as Biden met with world leaders in Bali at the same time his predecessor announced a third presidential election. But the momentum grew when Biden called emergency talks over a missile killing two people in Poland at the same time Trump loyalists filled the Mar-a-Lago ballroom for the announcement of the former president.
Trump’s announcement will surely spark renewed attention on Biden regarding decision-making regarding his re-election bid. By all accounts, including his closest advisers, Biden will feel more inclined to seek a second term if Trump is in the running.
Biden administration officials had touted the G20 summit as another effort to rally world leaders in support of Ukraine amid ongoing Russian aggression, but the issue has reached a new level. emergency when Indonesian leaders were awakened early Wednesday by reports that a missile had landed in Poland. – Ukraine’s neighbor to the west and a NATO ally – and killed two people.
Allied NATO and G7 leaders at the summit, led by Biden, held and emergency meeting in Bali to discuss their approach to the explosion.
The circumstances surrounding the incidentwhich marked the first time a NATO country was directly affected during the nearly nine-month conflict, remain unclear.
Biden said after the meeting that preliminary information suggested it was “unlikely” the missile was fired from Russia, but was unable to say conclusively until the investigation was complete. not finished. Poland’s president and NATO chief both said on Wednesday it was likely the missile strike was accidentally caused by Ukrainian air defenses, with no signs it was an intentional attack on Poland.
At the G20 – a group of nations, including Russia, largely focused on the global economy – Russia’s international isolation has grown as world leaders issued a joint statement condemning its war in Ukraine.
The summit concluded on Wednesday with a statement by the leaders which “deplores in the strongest terms the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory”.
The 17-page document is a major victory for the United States and its allies, which pushed to end the summit with strong condemnation of Russia, although it also acknowledged disagreements among member states.
“Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed that it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” he said. “There were other points of view and different assessments of the situation and the sanctions.”
Adopting the joint statement would have required buy-in from leaders who share close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin – notably Xi, who declared a “boundless” friendship between their countries weeks before the invasion, and the Indian Prime Minister. Narendra Modi.
While India appears to have distanced itself from Russia, it is less clear that there has been a change of position on the part of China. Xi called for a ceasefire and agreed to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in a series of bilateral meetings with Western leaders on the sidelines of the G20, but gave no public indication of any commitment to persuade Putin to end the war.